Forbidden Relationships Listed in Yom Kippur Torah Reading

One of portions of the Torah read out loud on Yom Kippur (during the Mincha service) contains a listing of deviant sexuality and relationships that are forbidden because “Anee Hashem” for G-d Himself has declared them so.

We are not scared of discussing such subjects head-on, and the Torah in plain, clear language tells folks what is on the “don’t” list in physical relationships.

The whole listing first starts with the Passuk [verse] that says, “I am Hashem, your G-d”.  The Meshech Chachma says that before giving us the list of forbidden relationships, G-d tells us that if He said we are forbidden to have these relationships, we can be sure that we are able to control any desires to have that relationship, because Hashem created us and knows our limitations and capabilities.  Therefore, if Hashem says a sister and brother cannot have a physical relationship, we know that there is no person who is created biologically in a way that makes it impossible for them to control themselves and not have that kind of relationship.  This goes for any of the forbidden sexualities.  If Hashem said no to the relationship, we can control ourselves and not have that relationship.  No one can claim he/she cannot control desires.  Note, it doesn’t say it is easy to control, but that it is doable.  {And a challenge for Torah sleuths – which desires might not be able to be controlled and, therefore, guidelines are set up if and when that desire strikes a person?}

The Chofetz Chaim writes that he doesn’t understand why people are horrified if someone does one of the wrong things listed in this Parsha, but then can’t care less when someone does other wrong things.  As an example, the Chofetz Chaim says that if a brother and sister got married, we would say, “Horrors – how dare they go against Hashem and do such a disgusting thing.”  But when folks randomly sleep around, we don’t say that, even though it is clear from this Parsha that it is also disgusting to Hashem when we do that.  Wrong is wrong, not based on our flawed logic, but based on what G-d said is wrong.

Hashem created our bodies, He created our desires, and He told us how to use it right.  It is sad when we take this beautiful gift He gave us called sexuality and misuse it. In fact, what we do when we misuse it is rob ourselves of what could have been.

Let me explain.  Many moons ago, I mentored some street toughs.  One of the kids, a gang member, ended up staying with me for a bit, along with her misbehaving mutt, a mangy creature with crooked teeth and a propensity to bite.  The mutt also had certain desires not under control, and, therefore, acted like an animal, to put it quite politely.  I wondered some days, how could I have been so blessed as to be forced to put up with that dog’s off-kilter out-of-control behavior.  And then, one day, when it was time to give a lecture to a group of my street toughs about abstinence until marriage I knew why G-d had sent that mutt to me.  I was able to demonstrate animalistic behavior, right up close.  I was then able to explain that there are those who have a more refined physical relationship, one that is not of the “use whatever you got nearby” variety.  Most of the kids got the message loud and clear and most of them decided they wanted sexuality only in the context of commitment of a healthy marriage.  Most didn’t want to turn into an object being used for the moment by someone who didn’t learn to control desires.

Sex, it can be G-dly and nurturing…or it can turn humans into animals.

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Dreaming Ourselves Big

About ten years ago the National Institute of Health issued a press release aimed at senior citizens.  It had been prompted by a study which found that if seniors would imagine taking their medications, they would be more likely to remember to take it.  Even as memory failed, by drawing a picture in their mind of the thing they had to do, they embedded that thought into their neural network so well that they would remember to do it.

So you thought imagination was just stuff and fluff?  Most of it is, stuff and fluff.  Yet, nothing was created that couldn’t be used for good – hence imagination, too, must have its place in getting us to reach higher spiritual heights.

Imagination – we can daydream ourselves big.  Actually visualize what we will do great this coming year.  Paint mind dioramas of the wonderful Mitzvos you will involve yourself in.

No, the thought is not all – it ought to be translated into action for action is the goal.  Yet, the study done in 2004 tells us something important – if you dream it, you might remember to do it.  Or as the great Chassidic masters taught, “Tracht Gut, s’vet Zeyn Gut” [Think good and it will be good].

May we all dream big for our new year.


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Spill Out Your Heart Like Water

Spill Out Your Heart Like Water

[Some quick lessons in meanings.  Tefilla means prayer and in Yiddish we say Davening for praying.  King David said:  Shifchi Kamayim Leebaych Nochach Pnay Hashem - -Spill out your heart like water facing G-d.]

New Orleans taught us a lesson.  Dam water up and it might stay within, stopped back.  However, as the water becomes agitated, as it becomes pressurized, as it grows in quantity, dams break down and the water flows, washing all away.  Shifchi Kamayim – when the pain grows beyond our emotional dams, there is a breaking down, a dissolving into tears, when prayers [Tefillos] finally pour out of us like the storm-churned waters.

Why water?  Why should prayer be like water?  Dovid HaMelech said, “Va’ani Tefillosi” I become my prayer.  What is that supposed to mean?  Praying is not just an outlet of pain, it is not just a moment to ask for something for ourselves, prayer ought to change us.  We need to become our Tefillah, become transformed by it.  And that is why prayer is like water   -water can etch and erode, can change the contours of land, can break down the strongest rocks and, so, if we allow, can our prayers reshape us.  Davening, when we tune into it fully, should be changing our natures.

In Jewish thought and law, prayer must consist of three things to fulfill man’s obligation of prayer.  You must utter a praise of G-d,  request something of Him, and thank Him for anything you can think of.  This is how Tefilla can transform you and work: you realize the Greatness of G-d  and the smallness of you, amazed that He cares about tiny you, a speck in the great sea of humanity;  you realize that you are nothing and can get nothing without Him and therefore beg Him for what you need; and then you realize how much He has given already, how, despite not deserving it, He gives to us constantly.  Prayer transforms us because as we really cry out, we realize we are Nochach Pnay Hashem, we stand in front of G-d, vulnerable, needy, but allowed to ask for help.

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No Fear of Failure, No Fear of Inadequacies


Did you ever wonder why some folks won’t even bother trying to be great, even though they have all the talents and opportunity to be great?  Sometimes, the reason is the fear of failure.  People are so afraid of falling, they don’t try climbing.

“Men fall in order to rise,” states the Zohar.  All people fall at some time.  The difference between a good person and a bad one is how they react to their falls.  The wicked fall seven times and get up six times.  The righteous fall down seven times and get up eight.  Everyone makes mistakes.  Everyone goes through slip-sliding times.  Sometimes, it is even necessary.

“Because I have fallen, I was able to stand up.  If I wouldn’t have sat in darkness, I wouldn’t notice the light.”  Have you ever backed up to take a great leap forward?  Sometimes, a fall allows us to leap a bit ahead, to see greatness all the more.  You’ll fall?  So what?  We all will, at some point.  Just make sure to get up! You got back up when you were toddler and tried walking the first time and fell smack on your rear, didn’t you?  That is why you are able to walk as an adult, because you got up after a fall and learned how to walk.  Spiritually, we will fall on our fannies at times.  It just means that we need to get back up and walk again.

There are times people give up their spiritual quests when racked with guilt.  “I’ve done something so wrong, lost an opportunity, lost, lost, lost!”  Such guilt is not healthy.  Rabbi Gedaliah Schorr, ZT”L explained why our enemies would always try to take away Rosh Chodesh[1] observance.  Rosh Chodesh is a symbol that shows us the power of being MeChadesh, of renewing ourselves, moving past our falls and mistakes.  The moon starts big, wanes and almost disappears…then reappears, round and full again.  We will sometimes not be the greatest we can be.  We might almost fade away.  Yet, we can always start again and build up to our full capacity again.  Taking away that concept makes us wallow in pasts, which is exactly what our enemies wished for us.  A person wallowing in guilt is like a man caught in a sinkhole of mud.  He becomes mired, unable to move on down his path.

We refer to G-d as “Mikva Yisroel[2]“.  Just as a Mikva purifies, Hashem purifies.  Mikva is from the same root as Tikva, hope.  We always have hope for future greatness, because Hashem purifies us, cleanses away our past mistakes.  Don’t ever give up in life because of a sense of guilt.  As Reb Nachman stated, “If you believe you can destroy something, believe you can fix it.”

Yehuda made a mistake[3], admitted to it, moved past it.  Dovid HaMelech made a mistake[4], admitted to it and moved past it.  Both of these men will be the forefathers of Moshiach.  Think of how profound a statement that makes to us.  Mistakes do not preclude you from greatness, as long as you admit to the mistakes and move on past them!

Rabbi Akiva once walked into Yeshiva in the best of moods.  “I was able to do the greatest kindness today,” he told his fellow students.  “I found a Mais Mitzvah, a dead body, just strewn out on the field.  There was no way I was going to leave the dead body there, so up on my back I heaved the corpse and carried it to the nearest cemetery and buried it.”

“Murderer,” said the other students.  “You did a wrong thing every step you took with the dead body.  A Mais Mitzva acquires its ground.  You were supposed to bury the dead man right where you found him.”

A less wise person would give up at this point.  How ludicrous to do a hard task, drag a corpse on one’s back for heaven only knows how many miles, and then be told you got it wrong!  A lesser man would throw up his hands and say, “That’s the last time I do any kind deed, if for every time there is something wrong with what I’ve done.”  Rabbi Akiva, however, was a greater man than most, wiser in his response to setbacks like this.  Rabbi Akiva was overjoyed.  He had learned the rules.  Now, if he came across a dead man, he’d know exactly what to do!  We, too, can be like Rabbi Akiva and use our mistakes as learning tools.

There are also times people give up because they don’t see the gains they are making.  “What’s the use,” they complain, “I can’t see myself accomplishing great things.  All I see are the struggles and the effort.  I’m not seeing results.”

In the Torah, there is a list of places where the Jews camped and how they traveled in the desert.  Ultimately, the Jews were journeying toward the land of Israel.  That was their end goal.  However, we must always remember, it is not just the end result that has value.  The journey itself has value…which is why the Torah saw fit to list the journey stops.

Rabbi Dessler explains that everybody is born in midst of things and dies in midst of things.  You cannot see to the end of time.  You can’t even see to the end of your own life.  How can you expect to always see results?  Results are happening, even though you might not see it in the here and now.  There are countless stories of results that took generations to come forth.

Think of the story of Rus.  Here she goes ahead, converts, follows her mother-in-law’s directions, marries Boaz…and is left a widow the next morning.  What did she gain by doing the right thing?  Could she see far into the future and see Dovid?  Could she see even further into the future and see Moshiach?  The gains for the Jewish people from Rus doing the right thing are immeasurable.  Yet, the results were completely hidden from Rus’s generation.  It seemed as if she had gained nothing by her hard choices.   Don’t worry, if you don’t see the results of your hard work.  They are not always instantly apparent.  Your children might see it.  Or sometimes your grandchildren.  Apparent or not, results do happen.  They just sometimes take a while to blossom.

There is a question as to whether the main commandment of lighting the Menorah is one of lighting or one of making sure it stays lit.  We’re taught the main commandment is to light it.  You have to do your work and not worry about the outcome.  Don’t always expect to see results.  Just provide the spark to start the flame burning.

When Hashem commanded the building of the Mishkan[5],  Moshe was mystified at the ordered task.  “How was it possible for humans to build a structure as G-d’s abode,” he questioned, ‘if we’re told that the whole of heavens cannot contain Him?”  How can you provide a finite place of rest for the Infinite?  Seeing Moshe’s confusion, G-d clarified.  “According to YOUR abilities I am asking,” said Hashem, “not according to MY ability.”  This lesson is appropriate for each of our lives.  Each person is only obligated to do as much as his or her ability allows.   The maximum of our talents and tools with a willing heart dedicated to G-d.  Not fearing failure.  Not wallowing in past mistakes.  And believing our best is adequate.  That is enough to make us really special people.

[1] Sanctification of the New Moon [2] the Ritual Bath used to transform from a state of impurity to a state of purity. [3] With respect to Tamar [4] In the incident with Batsheva [5] Tabernacle

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Parshas Kee Saytzay — No Dissing a Dead Body

This week’s Torah portion includes the instructions that we are to bury the dead body of the capital punishment prisoner.  Rashi explains why we are so careful in burying a person, even the person who gets the death penalty because “Adam Asoy Bidmus D’Yokano” Rashi 21:23 “for man is fashioned in G-d’s image.”

Every person was created “Btzelem Elokim” – “In the Image of Hashem.”  This “image of Hashem” aspect is the gift of free choice that Hashem gives us.  Hashem does not preprogram us, but allows us to choose our own destiny.  We, little created beings though we are, still have the choice to do what we want to with our lives.  The inherent value to a person is his/her ability to make choices (and by his/her choices, change the course of the world!)  Even the drunk, wallowing in his own dirt in a ditch, was not preprogrammed like a robot.  He had choice, which is considered to mirror G-d’s Image of free choice.

Never blame anyone else for your actions.  You and you alone have choice in your life.  Choose well, as it is a G-dlike attribute to be able to choose.

And…if a murderer gets respect, don’t you think then respect should be universal?  Think well of this lesson the next time you slight someone with an insult.  Remember, if the lowly drunk is exalted enough as to deserve respect, how much more so must we respect our acquaintances or our neighbors, who definitely have a large dose of Tzelem Elokim.  I personally think that the only person who can possibly disrespect others is someone whose own vision of him/herself is clouded, only someone who is unsure he/she can rise to great heights.  Because once you acknowledge your ability to be great, you realize others’ abilities to be great, too.  Mechilta Mishpatim claims the worst of thieves is the one who steals another man’s confidence.  Such a thief has taken away a person’s chance at greatness by making him feel he is too insignificant to rise and shine.

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The Song of the Fox

[Each force in nature sings a song of sorts.  And each one teaches us something.  And here, for the children (and for the child in all of us) is the fox narrative.]

Sneaky guy, creeping along trying to trick one and all

Plush red fur, so soft to touch, beautiful is the Shu’al

Slyly, wily, tiptoeing to find new ways to steal

Never has he earned his food, he robs for every meal

Oy, vah voy, what does he think, that happy this way he’d be

No way, my friend, no happiness can come from robbery

Shame on the one who builds a home full of lies and cheating

There is no good taste in anyone’s mouth, if stolen food you’re eating

Yaakov Aveenu was able to be honest even when a Lavan tricks him

And if someone steals, like the fox, Hashem will shortly fix him.

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