Righting the Wrongs: Many Jobs Left Undone

We are taught – “Mee Zeh Ya’amod L’khaper Shegaga” – who can stand up and correct a sin made in error?  Esther.  Shaul, one of her ancestors, had made a mistake in his life.  He had not killed a flock of animals, though he had been told to do so by Divine order. The end result was that Agag, the king of Amalek was left alive for he had hidden in that flock of sheep.  Agag then had a child, and so continued the nation of Amalek, allowing eventually for a Haman to be born into the world.

Have you ever worked with a child who is having a hard time doing something right?  An example — your daughter decides she wants to fold her own tights.  The more patience and love you have for the child, the more you will sit there and give the child another chance to get it right.  If you have less love and patience, you just finally get exasperated, pull the tights out of her hand and do it yourself.  That makes the child sad, because that child believes in her own ability to “get it right” and wanted to do it herself.

G-d has infinite love and patience.  Yes, He can right all wrongs and do all jobs Himself.  He has no need for us whatsoever.  But He loves us.  So  G-d gives us in our lives amazing amounts of first, second, third chances, and even more chances, of getting something right.  And even if we fail within our own lives, G-d doesn’t give up on us.  He lets our children or grandchildren try again to finish up our uncompleted business.

One summer, a teen became an extended part of the family as my parents extended kindness to her in many ways.  Many weeks later, in a random conversation about her ancestors, we discovered she was a granddaughter of some great-uncle.  To my father, the most amazing part was that her grandfather had been my grandparents’ Shadchan [matchmaker] and had never been paid the customary matchmakers’ fee as times had been tumultuous and it had been overlooked somehow.  It had bothered my grandparents that they never “paid their shadchan.”  Now, years later, their son “paid off the debt” by extending hospitality and generosity to the Shadchan’s granddaughter.

Not always in life are things so obvious.  Yet, we have to know that when opportunities come our way, when that particular poor person knocks on our door, when that neighbor asks for a favor and other such “random” events, that there is nothing random.  If it was sent your way, that might be a way for you to right a wrong or to finish off what your ancestors first started.

Esther and Mordechai, two descendants of Shaul, got the chance to right a wrong that he had done.  So this Adar, as we near Purim, enjoy life in every which way, and thank G-d for the drama in our lives that enables us to finish off any unfinished business.

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Wiping Out Amalek – Parshas Zachor Reminder

We begin next week with the celebration of Purim.   Wee-ha!

But before we do that, ‘ere the week begins, this Shabbos there will be a special Torah reading that correlates to Purim.  It is a very short few lines known as “Parshas Zachor” where we are exhorted to remember what the Amalek nation did to the Jews way back when we were on our way out of Egypt.  We’re told to completely “wipe out the remembrance of Amalak from under the Heavens.”

The Jews are charged with the mission of bringing G-d awareness into the world.  Amalek tries to wipe out that awareness.  Amalek is the “bad guy” in the play of the world.

G-d did a miracle for the Jews at Exodus and split the sea.  The whole world saw the miracle and finally folks began saying, “wow, G-d exists.”  Amalek then came, knowing they would lose the war and get many of them killed, but with great sacrifice to their lives, they came and fought the Jews to show the world “ah, that was one little miracle – most of the time, life goes according to physical reality and we, Amalek, can fight G-d’s representatives.”

The verse says, that Amalek “karcha baderech” ‘happened upon us on the way”.  What does that mean – happened upon us?  That is Amalek’s way of trying to get folks to not believe in G-d – they try to send messages to mankind that everything is happenstance, just a coincidence, mother nature, laws of physicality.  Amalek are the ones who try to explain G-d out of the picture of the world.  Playing up Darwin and evolution.  Genetic behaviorism.  Saying, the world and our natures are just mere happenstance.  That is Amalek.  The world just “happened”.

And our job as Jews is to fight the good fight – to wipe out such ideas so that the whole world will finally come to realize that “ayn od Milvado” there is nothing other than G-d.  Choose your weapons, my friends.  It can be science (intelligent design premises?), history (Twain’s essay on the Jews?), or any weapon that suits the warrior that is you.  But, this Shabbos, you are told, through the reading of Parshas Zachor, that you are not absolved from fighting the good fight.  Onwards with the fight.

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L’Harim – To Uplift, Raising Things Above Their Base Level

This coming Shabbos’ Torah portion talks about the beginning of the collection of objects for the construction of the Tabernacle (the Mishkan) and some of the vessels and curtain constructions within.

Hashem requests the Jews:  “take for me offerings”.  Weird wording.  It should say Hashem asked us to give to Him – not take for Him.  However, it is worded this way to teach us that charity and donating for Hashem’s sake is not giving, it is taking back the benefit of becoming a donor.

The word for offerings/gifts here is Teruma.  The root of the word is Ram (l’harim) which means to make higher, to uplift.  There are two things here at play – one is the actual motion we do when we give the object, we specify it for donation by lifting it up.  That is why, when some people do the mitzvah of Challah, after taking off that pinch of dough, they lift the dough and say, “this is Challah”, to do the consecration of L’harim, of uplifting it.  Just as we are doing the motions, so too, we have to realize is the second thing in play – -that on a deeper level, taking of some of our material blessings and donating it, we uplift it – we give the entire materialism a higher calling than just mere possessions.

I have relatives who met under very unusual circumstances.  They met in the Ukraine.  She really wasn’t supposed to be there.  He was – as he was running a school there that he had started.  But really she shouldn’t have been there at all, except that G-d wanted her there for these two young people meeting would bring them together into a marriage that is amazing.  Therefore, Hashem made sure the usual channels that would bring a Megillah to that city fell short that year.  And, through a series of goofs and escapades, she ended up put on a plane to Ukraine with a Megillah to deliver.   At some point, between delivering the Megillah and returning home, he bought her a bottle of Pepsi to drink.  The sentimental girl didn’t drink her Pepsi.  She brought it home as a souvenir.  And kept it and kept it…and still keeps it on display.  Now, if I would have snuck in and stolen that Pepsi away, no other bottle or can of Pepsi that I would buy for her as replacement would ever do the trick of appeasing her.  You see, this particular bottle of Pepsi, didn’t have any secret ingredients.  It was plain, old, Russian Pepsi.  But it had been “uplifted”, it had been “transformed” from mere Pepsi into the beverage of romance and promise.

Things, mere physical objects, can become transformed.  Sometimes through emotions.  And, more astoundingly, through spirituality.  Nu, what are you waiting for – you now have the Midas Touch – touch things with spirituality and give it a glow.  Transform your day, your home, your life into something uplifting.

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and a p.s. — more food for thought — did you know that dance can be a way “le’harim es atzmecha” to uplift yourself…hmmm…who knew that jig could raise you that high?!

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Putting Up An Adar Sign

Adar started, a month of joy for our nation.  The Minhag [custom] is to put up a sign that signals this, a visual reminder that we are supposed to be focused on happiness.  The sign is supposed to read:  “Meeshehnichnahs Adar Marbim B’Simchah” which means “From when Adar starts we add on to joy.”  Each day of this month we build upon the previous one, trying for a bit more of happiness in our life.

A custom, but do many do it?  All too often, folks think, ah, it’s just a customary thing to do, not an obligation.  There is a verse in Shir Hashirim that talks about “shoo’alim, shoo’alim ketanim mechablim”.  There are many interpretations what the “small, foxes destroying” our orchard might signify.  Visualize the picture, the small, lithe fox slipping in under a gate, quietly, stealthily.  No one notices that small fox there…until it is too late, until the little fox has eaten its fill and destroyed the luscious grapes found therein.

According to one interpretation, the small fox is signifying those who break with tradition/custom, those who say, “Oh, it’s only a Minhag.”

Observance doesn’t take a hit right away in the history of our people.  First, there are the “nibblers” the circumstances and folks who sneak into the “orchard” and destroy it by trivializing customs.

 To ensure our homes are bulwarks of faith where observance grows securely, we must make sure to guard even the small Minhagim, every small custom.

Nu, what are you waiting for – go ahead, put up that sign in your house.

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And a song by Ahron Razel with the words: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sztNFzy504

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Half Coin Contribution — Parshas Shekalim

This past week, after the weekly Torah portion read on Shabbos, we add an additional reading from   Parshas Kee Seesa that talks about the Machtzis haShekel, the half coin that the Jews donated.

Some history:  Jews get Torah.  They then do golden calf mistake.  They are slated for huge punishment, but Moshe pleads their cause and they get saved.  They are given the commandment to build a Tabernacle.  And they get counted, via the donation of a half coin, which is then used for the Tabernacle.  Thereafter, any time they are to be counted, they get counted through the half-coin method.  And in future years, when the Temple is built, the half coin donation is mandatory each year and is used for the payment for the Karbanos/sacrifies.

Now back to the matter at hand, the reading of this portion of the half-shekel this week.  It is being read as this Shabbos precedes the new month of Adar.   Why do we read this now and why was the order given to donate at this time of year?  G-d always provides the “refuah” the healing before the ‘makka’ before the punishment.  When Haman was willing to pay money to get rid of the Jews, G-d  said, “Wicked man, your money has been preceded by the Jews’ money that they gave willingly for good deeds.”  G-d specifically referred to the half-coin donation.

Each year, Rosh Chodesh Adar, the first day of the month of Adar, there would be public announcements to the Jews to remember to contribute their half Shekel.  By the 25th of Adar, if someone hadn’t yet paid, he was forced to pay.  EVERYONE had to pay the Machtzis HaShekel.  No one could get away with less.  No one could give more.  Only Machtzis Hashekel – no one should think himself whole – we need each other, so we only each gave a half.  Kinda cutting us all down to size.  No man is whole alone.  We’re just half the equation.  We need other’s contribution to make our contribution whole.

When G-d originally told Moshe that everyone should give a Machtzis HaShekel and that was the way Moshe was to count the Jews and that was the way the Jews would be forgiven for the golden calf, Moshe wasn’t sure of what they had to contribute.  He heard the concept alright, but he didn’t think he heard right.  Was that a half-coin so powerful?  So G-d showed him the coin in fiery image.  What wasn’t Moshe sure about here?  He couldn’t understand how a Machtzis HaShekel, such a small little insignificant amount, could save Jews from death.  So G-d showed him the coin in fiery form.  That is the way we should be giving – with our hearts ablaze – fired up with enthusiasm.  G-d wants our hearts – we have to have enthusiasm for doing the the right thing.

Notice that it says Kee Seesah, which means when you lift up, (when referring to the count) and it doesn’t say any word about just counting.  Moshe was being taught that each Jew matters, that no one is just another number in Judaism.  Each small contribution we make to G-d in our lives, if done with a willing heart, is special.  Never say, I’m just another person, another speck of foam in the ocean of humanity.  But balance that out, knowing we are only a Machtzis – only a half, needing others to make a whole.

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Mishpatim – Civilly Spiritual or is it Spiritually Civil

PARSHAS MISHPATIM

The Shoresh [root word] is שׁ פ ט   which means judge.  Shofeit is a judge/mishpat is a judgment or a law/lishpot means to judge

There are different categories of Mitvos:  Mishpatim are civil laws – laws understandable according to human logic.  Eidos – laws set in place in commemoration of something or as a witness to something.  And Chukim – laws that are spiritual in nature and not something you and I would dream up (such as the Red Heifer).  This week’s Torah portion is entitled Civil Laws.

CHAPTER 21:  VERSE 1

“and these are the laws that you shall place before them.” Rashi asks, why does the verse begin the Parsha with the linking word “and”?  It would make sense to say, these are the laws.  The answer is that it is to link the laws that follow in this chapter with the Parsha beforehand which described the giving of the Torah on Sinai.  Jews don’t have civil law thought up by man.  Just as the ten commandments were given on Har Sinai, so too were these civil laws and torts.  You might think that we shouldn’t steal or cheat in business because it isn’t right civilly, for civilization.  And we Jews say, no, we don’t do it because G-d says it is wrong.

What would be wrong to have civil laws thought up by civilization?  When man dreams up a justice system and laws, there is no objective truth.  Each generation would then decide what is right and wrong and many times wrong will be done as a right.  There must be objective truth and that can only be G-d given.  That is why the two chapters are linked with the “and” that begins this chapter to tell us our sense of morality must be linked with Divine Revelation and guidance from G-d.

Now let us look at the last words of that verse, the words “before them” .  One explanation of these words is expounded by the Kol Simcha who says this teaches us that the laws come before us – that we suspend our desires and our logic when they are contradicted by Jewish law. Jewish law always gets precedence over what we want or think is right.  The I, the egotistical self-centeredness, gets put secondary to G-d’s will.

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Recipe For Life

I was interviewing this idealistic gentleman about his involvement in good deeds.  He didn’t want his name used, but his insight was too good to just ignore.  Here it is…and I tell it to you the way he told it to me.

‘In life people are always looking for recipes.  Some are looking for recipes on how to lose weight, how to make money, how to make a potato kugel.  But most of us, all of us, want to know the ultimate recipe — how to live life.

Our Chachamim {sages} say, ‘If you want to know how to live life, just die.’  And no one challenges that statement.  No one comments on it.  Because it is so obvious.

In this life what would you die for?

For your spouse?  Your children?  Your religion and belief system?

There is your answer.  Same passion for what you would die for, that is for which we should live passionately.   The recipe for life is finding what is worth dying for…and then living for it.’

 

 

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