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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Elul – a time for repentance

We’ve begun the month of Elul this past week.  Elul is the last month before judgment.  Next month comes Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, when each member of mankind is judged for past year’s actions and decrees are written for the upcoming new year.  Elul is the acronym for “Anee L’dodee V’dodee Lee” [“I am for my Beloved’s and my Beloved is for me”].  Elul is a time of closer connection w/ G-d.

Concept of Jewish Calendar:  Ma’agal Hashana – the wheel of the year.  Based on past events, time has significance.  We don’t merely commemorate past events in Judaism (as does secular society in things like July Fourth).  Rather, Jews know that certain times have certain powers.  Elul in history was right after the Golden Calf incident and after Moshe had set things right by punishing the instigators.  When the Jews had messed up big time, Moshe broke the set of Luchos [tablets with Ten Commandments] to have the destruction be transferred from the people to an inanimate object.  G-d wanted to wipe out our entire nation and only leave Moshe alive.  Moshe begged Hashem to forgive the Jews.  Hashem agreed – and Moshe goes back up to Heavens for another forty days.  He leaves Rosh Chodesh Elul [first day of the month of Elul] and returns Yom Kippur.  So, in history, this time was a time of G-d giving us a second chance and forgiving us despite our horrible mistake.  Therefore, in every generation, this time of the year is a time to get a second chance from Hashem, to move past any mistakes we make.

If you get called into traffic court for speeding and you have a whole list of outstanding other parking tickets you didn’t yet pay, it would be smart to pay off all the tickets before standing in front of the judge.  It would give more of a chance for the judge to be lenient if you took care of everything else.  That is why we would be stupid not to use Elul to try to clear up our mistakes- -we know we have a judgment day in a month – before seeing the Judge and getting judged it is easier to take care of past mistakes.

Teshuva [repentance] –  how do you do it?  Teshuva means to return – return to the state of innocence your soul was in before you did the wrong deeds.  According to the Rambam there are four steps to the repentance process:  leave the sin, regret the sin, admit (must speak) the sin, and take upon yourself not to do it again.

For sins between man and man, there are additional steps – you must right the wrong (if you stole, you must give back money, etc) and you must ask the person for forgiveness.  G-d will not forgive, if the person you harmed does not forgive.

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Parshas Eikev — Haftorah from Yeshayahu — quick tidbits

PARSHAS EKEV

 [some quick morsels from the weekly portion…]

 ‘And if you will “heel” keep the commandments’.  So begins the weekly Torah Portion this week.  Rashi explains that the word heel was placed into this sentence to tell us we must keep ALL the Mitzvos, even those which many might think are “unimportant” and those which others tend to trample upon with disdaining heels – even those we should be keeping.

Chapter 8:  Verse 3:  “Not on bread alone does man live…rather on the utterances from G-d’s mouth does man live.”  We need to remember this – science, medicine, food – none of that is what gives us the life force – it is G-d willing us to be alive which keeps our souls within our human bodies.  With the advance of modern science and medicine, folks often think they control their health and destiny.  Not so.  Souls come into this world and are taken from it by the word of G-d.

Moshe explains to the Jews at this point some of the miracles which had taken place in the desert.  Verse 4:  their clothing did not need laundering and grew with them during those years.  The Jews got so accustomed to their miraculous existence, they forgot it was a miracle.  Many times in our own lives, just because something happens again and again, we forget it is a miracle.  Sun comes up each day, that’s a miracle for you, but we are so used to it happening we forget how miraculous “mother nature” is.

The next thing we have in the Parsha is the mitzvah of Birchas Hamazon, grace after meals.  The verse says, “you shall eat, you shall be sated, and you shall bless Hashem…”  Grace after Meals is incumbent upon both men and women.

  HAFTORAH – Yeshayahu [Isaiah 49]

 49:14 – “And Zion said, G-d has abandoned me and my Lord has forgotten me.”

It’s been a long exile, hasn’t it?  There are moments of desperation, those dark days of the Inquisition, those horror years of the Holocaust, the unimaginable endless tragic history.  Did G-d forget us and give up on us?

49:15 – [G-d responds]”Does a woman forget her suckling, the son of her womb, even if such would forget but I won’t forget you.”16-“Behold on my palms I have engraved you, your walls are before Me always.”

Put your palm up now.  You see it clearly, don’t you.  That is how close G-d sees us at all times.  He hasn’t forgotten us, not for one moment.

And because G-d hasn’t forgotten us, He will eventually hasten our redemption, cutting short the pain facing us from every angle.

The next few verses have multiple meanings.  I am going to follow the path of describing the verse 17 “those who ruin you and those who destroy you, from you they emerge”  as a comment that our worst enemies are from within our own nation, at times.  The twisted souls who want to entice others into their vile sins.  Those who are bitter and become anti-religious, like that dude in California who wanted to ban circumcision.  We sometimes produce some bad apples.  In our generation, we mass produce them.  We have thousands of kids heading out to meaningless existences.  Parents weep, schools are shamed, our community devastated and you wonder where will it all end.

Yet, with all that, the next verses describe how even these wicked ones could make it back in the final count.  Verse 20:  “It will be said in your ears, the lost children [will say] it is too narrow this place, move toward me and I’ll dwell.”  Those kids we thought we lost to the street, those we thought we lost to twisted cultures and isms, those who had the most fight in them, they, too, will come streaming back, saying, “hey, make space for me at your Shabbos table, make place for me in your synagogues, let me back in.”

So cry for the Geulah, my friends, pray for that day when G-d reverts things back to ideal and brings home our lost children.  Let the small Mitzvos, the ones that oft get trampled on by the masses who don’t value it, be dear to us.  And let those Ekev, trampled upon Mitzvot, pave the road to return our children to the “Ikvos” the footsteps of their illustrious ancestors.

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You shall not add and you shall not subtract…

In this week’s Torah portion we have the prohibitions of:  [verse 3]  “Lo to’seefoo…ve’lo tee’gra’oo…”  you may not add to Torah, nor may you detract from Torah.  You cannot add Halacha nor say a Halacha is no longer part of the Torah.

First of all, that, my friends, tells you how anyone lifting Torah from us and then mucking around with it by adding or taking away commandments are 100% wrong…by the very Torah they are trying to claim as their own.

But, you might question…I understand why we can’t take away commandment G-d gave us…but why can’t we try to outdo ourselves and add to the commandments.

The Maggid of Dubno explains why not.  He tells the story of  a poor person who went to his next- door-rich-neighbor and borrowed a Kiddush cup.  The rich man gave it to him and after Shabbos the poor man returned the Kiddush cup along with a smaller silver cup.  Asked the rich man, “What’s with the smaller cup?”  Said the poor man, “the Kiddush cup had a baby over Shabbos – this is the baby.”  The rich man wasn’t going to argue the point and kept the small cup.  The next Shabbos the poor man borrowed the rich man’s silver candle holders.  After Shabbos, the rich man waited to see what would be returned…but nothing was returned.  Sunday came and went and nothing.  Monday, the rich man went to the poor man to ask for his silver back.  Said the poor man, “Sorry, it was sad, but your candlesticks died.”  “Died!” screamed the rich man, “they aren’t alive- – they can’t die.”  The poor man looked at him sadly and said, “If silver cups can have babies, then silver candle holders can die.”  Said the Dubno Maggid, ‘when you begin to add to the Torah, you eventually think you can detract from it.’

But it is also more serious than that – the minute you begin tinkering, either through adding or taking away Halacha, what you really are saying is that you think you know better than G-d.  Therefore, no one is allowed to add to or take away any Halacha.  Only G-d knows the precise measurement of what we are bound to do or what we are forbidden to do.

In fact, that is the original sin, my learned friends.  G-d said to Adam, you may not eat from that one tree.  And Adam said, “I will be able to serve G-d better with an evil inclination…and, therefore, in order to serve G-d better, I will eat from the tree.”  He was expected to serve G-d the way G-d wanted to be served…NOT the way he reasoned would be the “greater” service.

Our Torah is perfect.  No one has the right to tinker with it.  The moment they do, is the moment they impugn G-d’s greatness.  Only He knows what we should be allowed or forbidden to do.

 

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Parshas Eschanan (Shema) and Haftorah of Nachamu (and stars)

This week’s Parsha is Eschanan and has the Shema, the declaration a Jew says from birth to death, morning, afternoon and evening.  We declare we know that G-d is infinite and ONE and that all His ways of manifesting in the world is all part of His Infinity.

The word Shema is an acronym for Shacharis, Mincha and Arvis, the three times a day when we pray.  It is also an acronym for three words in this week’s Haftorah:  Se’ooh Marom Ay’naychem – Lift on High Your Eyes.  And backwards it tells us why we lift our eyes, why we stop three times a day for introspection and that is to accept on us Ohl Malchus Shamayim, the yoke of rule of Heaven.  It is our call to action, our mission statement, the entire focus of our lives.  To declare, to acknowledge, to broadcast the concept of G-dliness in the world.

So let us go examine the Haftorah now.  We begin with the comfort of Shabbos Nachamu, where the Haftorah begins with the double reassurance of comfort, Nachamu-nachamu.

Comforted that we will be redeemed, secure that we will be helped, what is left for us to do – what are the challenges left for us?

The end of the Haftorah instructs us to “Lift on high your eyes and see Who created these, He who takes out by number the army [of stars] to each a name He calls…”

Each Jew is compared to a star.  Whether you see its twinkle or not, whether closer to earth or more remote, each star is a brilliant glow and fire.  Each one has a name and number.  Each one is beloved.  We get our Jewish name upon birth and we get called a name when we die.  If we merit, those names match up – the name of our potential that was heralded at birth and the name that we earned through our actions.

We are told, look to Who created all these stars, those in the Heavens and those here one earth, all creations of the Almighty.

You are a star, valuable, beloved and precious.  Declare your life mission with a resounded Shema.  Keep your focus, my beloved friends, and have a comforting, meaningful Shabbos that will stretch into the Shabbos of no-end.

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The Owl Gives a Hoot About Us — Perek Shira

[continuing in Perek Shira, the Song of the Universe, we come to the Ritzeefee, an owl, and find out what they give a hoot about.]

When the world is asleep, you can hear the Shechina weep

From behind the Western wall

From forests dark and deep when there isn’t any peep

Comes forth an echoing call

The cry goes out, where are my children found?

And from the woods comes hoo-hoo a wailing sound

 

When hope seems far away, and you can’t imagine another day

Stuck in pain and all seems wrong

Listen well to what G-d does say, hardships are not here to stay

And soon dawn will come along

Listen well to the echo-song of the Retzeefee

Mirroring G-d’s “Nachamoo Nachamoo Amee”

 

The exile seems so long, and our pain just feels so wrong

How much more can we endure

But a whisper of a song, tells us hold on and be strong

For soon we’ll be secure

Our people will yet have a salvation

“Be comforted, be comforted, my nation”

——————–

And a beautiful song on this theme is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-j5F0ckv9s

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Ten types of prayer — one being v’eschanan

This week’s Torah portion is called v’eschanan.  Moshe relates to the Jews how he pleaded and begged G-d to be allowed to cross the Jordan and see Eretz Yisroel.

V’eschanan –

RASHI:  Even though Tzadikim have merits, they daven for “matnas cheenum” they ask G-d to give them what they need, not out of merit but out of free gifts, just because Hashem loves to give.  V’eschanan is but only one form of prayer.  There are actually 10 forms of prayer. [ad kahn rashi..]

Think of times we are moved to pray:  Tza’aka is one – that time when we scream out in pain – that is one form of prayer.   There is a Reenah – a time when we are so overjoyed, we pray.  Times we are so overawed – birth of a baby, at a spectacular sunset- — that we are moved to pray from a place of awe.  This time, Moshe’s prayer takes on the form of asking “v’eschanan” – asking for free gift to go to Eretz Yisroel even though Hashem had told him he won’t go there.

Every moment in life has a connection point to Hashem.  Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson recounts the story of the holy brothers Reb Elimelech and Reb Zushe.  They were once put into a jail block with other prisoners.  The holding cell had no bathroom facility.  Rather, there was a bucket put in the room where everyone did their business.  That meant the room reeked…and the holy rabbis would not be able to halachically daven.  Reb Zushe was very, very upset.  His brother, however, took him to task.  He said, ‘before, you connected to Hashem and cleaved to him through formal prayer.  However, now Hashem wants you to serve him and cleave to him by NOT praying, because that is the Halacha.  Be happy with this new opportunity to serve Hashem in a manner you haven’t yet done.”  Reb Zushe agreed with his brother….and out of joy of being able to serve Hashem now without davening, he began to sing a niggun and dance.  His brother joined…then one prisoner and then another.  Soon, the whole cell block was up and dancing a lively dance.  The prison guard came running.  “What is going on here?” he screamed, “why are you dancing.”  “Those Jews started it,” (ah, we know that answer from many scenarios, don’t we).  “Why are the Jews happy and dancing,” screamed the guard.  One prisoner explained, “It has to do with that bucket full of !@#$.”   “What?” exclaimed the guard, “How can that be?”  “Not sure that I understand,” explained one prisoner, “but it seems that the Jews had a relationship with Hashem pre-bucket. But now, with the bucket they have a whole new relationship with G-d and that is why they are happy, with being able to connect to G-d with a bucket of $%^.”  “Well, I’ll teach those Jews a lesson,” said the anti-Semitic guard.  He picked up the bucket and removed it from the jail cell so that the two holy Jews’ “bucket relationship” would be ruined.  Reb Elimelech now said, “nu, brother, now you can go daven.”

Many morals to this tale.  One, that sometimes when we embrace our pain and difficulty, at that precise moment often Hashem removes that pain, since we have done our emotional work of accepting His will.  Another:  that even @#$% can connect us to Hashem.  In fact, we sometimes gain a deeper connection through the yucky parts of life.  You speak to folks who have gone through the valley of death and they talk of G-d’s presence in the operating room, in the midst of their grief, etc.  You can serve G-d with the bucket, if that is what He demands.

Prayer is our tangible method of reaching out to G-d.  Ten ways to do so.  Scream from pain, dance with joy, marvel with awe…and sometimes, like Moshe, beg for free.

And no prayer ever is returned empty, as G-d points out further in the chapter.  While Moshe cannot cross over the Jordan for now (until Yemos HaMashiach), he is allowed his second request — that of seeing Eretz Yisroel.  Hashem makes a miracle for Moshe to enable him to see that which he wanted to see.  A sneak-peek preview in a private showing of a beloved place.

May we all realize that no matter what life flings our way or where it flings us, on G-d’s contact info webpage, there are 10 different ways to get in touch with Him!

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