Second Chances Today — Pesach Sheini

Today is called Pesach Shaynee – the “second Pesach”.  What is the concept of this “second chance Pesach”?  The first Pesach that the Jews were in the desert a group of men did not get to bring the Paschal sacrifice because they were Tamei L’Mes  — impure from touching a dead person.  (A person who touches a dead body can’t bring a sacrifice – has to go through purification beforehand).  So these men came to Moshe and said, “it isn’t fair – why should we lose out on this Mitzva just because we were doing the Mitzva of taking care of the dead.”  Moshe tells them, “okay, let me ask.”  And G-d tells Moshe that when this happens, there is a Pesach Sheni – a second point in time, a month after the first Pesach, where all those who couldn’t bring the Paschal Sacrifice during Pesach can do this Mitzva and bring the Paschal Sacrifice a month later.

The question is this:  why wasn’t this Mitzva of this “makeup sacrifice” given right away with the Mitzva of the first Pesach?  Why wait until these men complained to give this Mitzvah?  To teach us how our attitude to Mitzvos should be – -that when we can’t do one, we should feel like we are missing out on something.  So because we should learn from their example, this Mitzva was not given until the folks said “we want this mitzvah”.

There is another lesson in the “second chance Pesach” that is very important to us.  That is that Hashem gives second chances at spirituality.  There is no such thing as never being given a second chance at being close to G-d.

Now that we don’t have a Temple to bring a Paschal offering, in lieu of that, we eat our Matza.  So, get yourself a bit of Matza and bite into the concept of second chances.   

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Hitting All Seven Notes – Seven Complete Weeks Counted between Pesach and Shavuos

Seven.  Let’s talk about who knows that number.  We ought to be familiar with it from this week’s Torah portion – seven are the count of the weeks between Pesach and Shavuos.   Just as seven are the days of the week.  And seven are the count of the primary colors.  And seven are the notes of a song.    And seven are the years of the Sabbatical cycle.  And seven cycles of Shemitta years gives us a Jubilee year. Seven “shepherds” to the Israeli nation-flock.  Seven Sefiros – seven forces of spirituality that was imbued into this world of physicality.  Ah, herein is the secret to it all.  Seven is the number pattern to physicality.

Seven = our physical world, all things “tachas Hashamesh” under the sun.

This week, our Torah portion tells us to do the COMPLETE count of seven weeks between the sacrifice of the barley Omer sacrifice of Pesach and the sacrifice of the Shtai HaLechem fine-flour-bread offering of Shavuos.  The point of us counting Sefiras Ha’Omer is not just the count  — it is supposed to be a reminder for us to work out our inner kinks to become more refined beings.

Seven counts of physicality is all fine and good because we take that physicality and we hit higher numbers with them. The count we are enjoined to do for seven weeks is not just about seven complete weeks, it is about completing our potential.  Actualizing our fullest spiritual essence.  Getting beyond this world, to a higher dimension.  Seven, those physical things we can make eternal.

The poetry, the precision, the exact patterning of this world is breathtaking in complexity.

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Emor- the bitter curser

There is a story in this week’s Torah portion of an unfortunate soul who lost his bid for salvation in a fit of bitterness and anger.  Here goes the story:

In Egypt, the Jewish women, we are taught, were noted for their focus on committed marriages.  The women focused on making themselves beautiful for their husbands and ensuring an intact family.

There was one woman, Shlomit bas Divri, so-named not because she was named such..but as a way of explaining her personality.  Eager-to-please, out-to-get-acquainted, Shlomit from the word Shalom would walk around greeting all and not stopping there –she was bas divri – out to shmooze up anyone, even the wicked Egyptian overseer.   And that became her downfall.  You cozy up to a creep, creepy things happen.  The overseer decided he had to have her, and, ensured a moment alone with her and had his way.  The son born is the man in discussion in this week’s Parsha.

Jewish lineage has two aspects.  Whether or not one is Jewish is based on whether or not one’s mother is Jewish (or one can convert to Judaism, if not born to a Jewish woman).  The other aspect is about tribal affiliations.  That, however, does not go through the matrilineal line, but rather through the father’s side.  Hence, this child born to Shlomis was Halachically Jewish, but had no tribe.

In the desert, as the Jews were assigned campsites and when he realized there would be land apportioned in Israel upon entry based on tribal affiliations, he realized he’d be left out.  No place to pitch his tent, no dream of having a spot in Israel.  He turned angry and bitter. He stormed out and spoke out publicly beyond any borders against G-d who gives us the breath in our nostrils and every blessing we have.  Finis to the son of Shlomit.

“But why?” you might protest.  And you might even say, “but what should he have done in such an untenable situation?!”

He should have held on and believed in the munificence of G-d.  For later on, another individual faced that crossroad.  When Yisro converted, he realized he had the same conundrum.  He almost crossed himself off of a glorious future by abandoning ship.  However, he was persuaded not to – and eventually, a portion of land that would not be allotted to those born biologically Jewish was given to the righteous convert…and he found his spot in the sun.

Much later, Ruth and Orpa did the same contrast. When faced with the fact that they might not be accepted fully within the Jewish nation, Orpa turned her back on truth and headed down the destructive path of bitterness and self-pity.  Ruth drew herself to the heights of great dignity and converted to Judaism anyway.  The result – she became the progenitor of Moshiach.

When things look hopeless, when circumstances hurt, hold on past the bitterness.  Ya’ gotta believe in G-d munificence and kindness.  He will make it right…so long as we hold on.

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Staying the Course (rock solid in staying on the Derech)

A hard story to understand, the tale of the son of Shlomit bas Divree.   The Torah sketches out the stark outline of details in this week’s Parsha.

Way back in Egypt, a woman was quite a friendly character, outgoing, ensuring notice with her way of greeting every person walking by…including an Egyptian overseer.   Her name Shlomit (which means greeting) bas Divree (which means speaking).  She always spoke up, this woman.   The aftermath was not pretty.  She ended up forced into a relationship, after being noticed.  Notice can cause harm many times.  The end result was her giving birth to a son whose father was an Egyptian overseer.  Shlomit ended up suffering for her forward nature. (Incidentally, at that time in history she was the ONLY Jewish woman who was so indiscreet and had this happen to her.)

Shlomit decided to carry forward.  Mistakes do happen and we do accept in our camp those who suffered indiscretions.  Her son was born, and she and her son joined the Jewish nation on the Exodus trip and subsequent acceptance of the Torah.  All seemed fine.   However, as the years went by, a problem occurred.  Each tribe of the Jews had its own camping site in the desert and they knew they would all be getting a slice of Israel in short order.  Shlomit’s son assumed he belonged to the tribe of his mother and went ahead pitching his tent there.  The tribe members protested.  Tribal membership goes according to father’s lineage, and this young man was the offspring of an Egyptian man.  “Not ours,” they said about him.  And they were right.  Jewish law stipulates that tribal inheritance and settlement is traced via the father, not the mother.

The law was told to this young man…and his reaction was immediate.  In a fit of anger and despair he lashed out against G-d, saying things beyond acceptable, to the extreme of uttering sentences he knew would incur the death penalty.  And that was his ignoble end.

You read the account and you can feel the pain of this boy.  Was it his fault that his father was of the accursed Egyptian nation – he hadn’t chosen who his father was, nor who his mother would be?  He was just a soul drawn into this world into an identity that was neither here nor there.  You can feel for him.  And, yet, you must come to terms with what we learn from his failing in life.

My parents always tell us, “der Bashefer blabt nisht shildig” which means G-d never ends up owing anyone anything.  What that means is that doing the right thing, especially when it is hard, will end up with positive results (after the hard time is weathered properly).

What would have happened if that young man would have made peace with his situation and learned to deal with his reality with grace?  Probably he would have ended up compensated brilliantly.

We see the contrast between this man and Yisro’s children.  Since Yisro and his children were converts, they had the same no-man’s land problem as this man did.   They, too, were not part of any of the tribes.  Yet, they converted and stayed Jews anyway because they wanted to serve Hashem and do the right thing – not because they wanted reward.  In the end, they were given land to settle that had not been given to any tribe, set aside for them.  You see, holding on, past the obstacles, gets the person often the thing he might think he was missing, so long as he is willing to let go to the claim for it.

Pinchas, a holy grandson of Aron, not allowed to be a priest just because of the date of his birth.  He held onto his sense of G-dliness without a trace of bitterness, even as his brothers got called up to Priestly duties and he got left behind.  Guess what?  Eventually, because he did, he entered the priesthood through his own merit.

Dovid, not allowed to grow up in the company of his holy elder brothers and pushed into the wilderness, held on…and became appointed leader of the Jews, raised above those brothers who seemed above him in stature.  Dovid HaMelech summed it up with this verse, “Evehn Ma’asoo HaBonim Hayesah L’rosh Peenah” the stone spurned by the builders ended up the foundation stone.

Yet, that only happens if the stone doesn’t splinter and split.  You must have  a rock solid determination to stick the course no matter what.   When we go through life, we have to remember that no matter what the circumstances we must stick to right and shun wrong.  We can’t choose our actions in order to gain something, because if we do, the moment we think our “reward” is threatened, we leave the good course and flee into misbehavior.   We have to do the right thing because it is the right thing, even if it seems we are not getting rewarded for doing that right thing…but in the end, in the twists of life that G-d allows to straighten things out, we do end up rewarded.  It is the way Hashem works.   We just have to hold on and weather the storms, stay true to course even through pain.  Or lose out like the son of Shlomit.

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And for a tip on how to weather that storm:  sing, cry, pray and keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Here is a great song from Itsik Eshel on this theme:  http://youtube.ng/watch?v=iCagKJqoPbA&feature=related

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Free Choice – Bechira – (Everyone Can Choose Morality, No Insanity Defense)

“The only reason the electromagnetic force does not complete overwhelm gravity in the world around us is that most things are composed of an equal amount of positive and negative electrical charges whose forces cancel each other out.”  So writes physicist Brian Greene in his exquisitely written book, The Elegant Universe.

G-d created the most elegant universe, where there is precision and symmetry beyond belief.  And one of the most amazing things is that the physical and spiritual will mirror each other.  Concepts in physical laws of nature will be aligned with those in spiritual matters.

Just as there are electrical charges whose forces cancel each other out, so too within the spiritual realm.  There is a constant EVEN struggle between good and evil, on a micro and macro level.

Within us are two opposing forces, the force that wants us to debase ourselves and the force that makes us want to shine and impact the world.

The deciding factor, though, is our inner dimension, the Neshama-soul.  That inner point of us is where we decide which force to follow.

Yes, within each person there is an even struggle, but the struggles between person to person will not be the same.  Each person has a fair-handed struggle, but the desires will be different.

To lay claim that “my insanity made me do it” is to try to say that the struggle was not even, that I had no choice in the matter.  That is a lie.  Each person has that even-keeled decision point.

I try to give David Pelzer’s book, A Man Called Dave, to many of the children from abusive homes that I’ve merited to mentor.  I usually accompany it with these words, “If David Pelzer, who was the third worst abuse case in California history, made it and became a loving, giving person, then no one has the right to say they cannot function because of past abuse, that they have an excuse to either not make a productive life or use their past abuse as an excuse to abuse.”

 Bechira, free choice.  Even choice.  We all have it, no matter what our past history. 

May mankind learn to choose to do good.

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IYAR – ZIV- A Blooming Good Attitude

Today is Rosh Chodesh, the start of a new month.  The new month right now is Iyar, also known as Ziv. Ziv means two things: it means radiation (because the sun’s radiation is switched “on” now with the start of spring). and Ziv also means a blossom, because everything is blossoming this time of year.

When the Jews left Mitzryaim [Egypt] way back when, shortly thereafter was Rosh Chodesh Iyar.  At that time they arrived at a place called Marah, where the waters were bitter.   Every sip of life-giving water had a brackish bitterness that made it impossible to drink.  G-d told Moshe to throw in a “branch” which then sweetened the water, turning the undrinkable water into delicious fare.  There, at the location of Mara, the Jews also got the laws of Shabbos, of Parah Aduma and some other of Judaic law.

Basically they were taught on that first Rosh Chodesh Iyar that Torah makes life sweeter (how does a stick show us it was Torah sweetening the water – we say “Eitz Chayim Hee” when we take out the sefer Torah – proclaiming Torah as the branch of life).

When the Torah tells us the narrative of the bitter waters, it says something a bit off.  It says the water was undrinkable because “they” were bitter.  Water is not a they, it should have been an it.  Since Torah is not a history book, but rather a source of lessons to character development, we have to ask why the Torah wrote this story in this manner.  Why the wording saying “they” were bitter.  We are being taught something profound here.  The reason the Jews found the water bitter was because of bitterness inside of themselves.  The folks, the masses, they were bitter, and because of that bitterness, everything they tasted, even life-giving water, tasted bitter as bile.

Bitter and Sweet are perceptions and come from attitudes – if you have a bitter attitude, everything you taste becomes bitter.  The Baal Shem Tov once wanted to show this to his students, so he took them on a walk and met up with the poor water carrier.  He asked the water carrier, “Nu, how’s life?”  The water carrier replied with a wide smile, “Ah, wonderful!  Everyone should be so lucky as me, to work outside and not have to be cooped up into a building.  To be able to meet everyone in town and help them by giving them water.  To be able to stay strong by carrying these heavy buckets of water.  Ah, what a great life!”  A few days later the Baal Shem Tov took his students out again and met the same water carrier and asked him, “Nu, so how’s life?”  The water carrier moaned, “Oy vey, why was I cursed with this life?  To always have to work outside!  To have to meet every kvetchy person in town and have to be a slave to the whole town by bringing them water.  And, oy vey, my back, why do I have to shlep such heavy buckets?”  The Baal Shem Tov turned to his students and asked, “What changed in this man’s life? Nothing.  His life is just harder, more bitter, or easier and more sweet based on attitude alone.”

Have you ever seen the anon wisdom of,  “If you complain about washing dishes, remember there are folks who have no dishes and no food to serve on them.  If you complain about having to do laundry, thank G-d you have clothing.”  Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera as the King of Siam once said.    Attitude is everything!!!

Color your perspective with sweetness and all will be sweet.  And the surest way to do that is to delve into Torah study, where we learn how to become a more complete person.

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Take a Fiddle When You Are Eating the Maror — for joy is just around the corner

We are heading to Seder nights, folks.  A time hinting of promises of redemption.  At that Seder, the crux of the night is to remember to talk about PESACH, MATZAH and MAROR.  If you don’t, you haven’t fulfilled your obligations of the night.  Pesach is about G-d saving us.  Matzah is the speed in which the miracles unfolded to get us out of that situation.  And Maror?!  What is that doing here with those two – Maror is a symbol of the bitterness and suffering.  Why is that lumped together with Pesach and Matzah…and why does it come last in the order of things?

Well, my friend, it is hard to know that at the time of suffering, but when we get past a crisis, we often do not regret having had to go through that pain.  We often feel that the pain and challenges have made us better people, deeper emotional creatures, and able to appreciate the good times that much more.  Therefore, after all is said and done, after the redemption of our people, we are thankful for the Maror, too.

Which brings me to this delightful old Yiddish song (sung by a Russian singer) that talks about a lesson a Zeide taught his Jewish grandchild.  (Yes, I know, it always goes back to song and dance with me!)  The song, (in a nutshell but not an exact translation), says, ‘My grandfather Reb Yisroel told me…they kicked out the Jew from land to land and he took along his fiddle.  When the heart hurts he takes “the Yidde’le, his fiddel’le, and plays a liddele/song with a lot of feeling.  The fiddel’le tells that life is but a play.” And the fiddle goes on to tell him, “that Simchos [happy occasions] will yet be by the Jews and that the Jews will never disappear.”

“From here to there,” the fiddle goes on speaking from place to place, he carries the song, the Jew in every location.

That is the message, my folks, of the Maror, that even in the bitterest times, we carry the song, knowing we will rejoice again, someday, no matter what.  As the song says, “let all our enemies know, Am Yisrael Chai!”  We are alive, grateful for all our past challenges, for that is what has forged us into a beautiful people.

Here is the link to the song:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WugcDT0VEK0&feature=related

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Also, if you want to see this concept explored in modern-day psychology, there is a growing recognition that there is positive growth that comes from trauma.  Here is an article that talks about it:

http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/ptsd/content/article/10168/54661

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