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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Sweeping Away our Dark Corners

There is an ancient custom that on midday of Tisha B’av, still in the midst of our mourning, we take up broom and mop and sweep and clean our homes in anticipation of the Final Redemption.

Now I ask of you, my friends, do you think Mashiach is the ultimate mother-in-law about to make home cleanliness inspections?  No, no, you are saying.  So then why the custom?

There is something important about sweeping out the physical parameters within which we reside to trigger a similar reckoning and housekeeping of the spaces inside.

So broom and mop in hand we move from space to space, neatening up, cleaning up, scrubbing the stains of our homes.  May we merit to do the same in our souls.

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No, it doesn’t make sense “I think, therefore, I am” — I’m consequential, therefore, I am!

Tricky question, this, do I exist or don’t I?

Learning Tanya, you come across a discussion in Sha’ar HaYichud Chapter 4, where the Tanya analyzes a verse that says, “Kee Shemesh Oo’Magayn Hashem Elokim.”  G-d Elokim is a Sun and a Shield.

Naming G-d and saying G-d has a name is problematic.  Yet, we do that.  We do that so that we can describe how G-d is interfacing with us.  G-d has different names depending on how we perceive His actions and how He is interacting with the world.  This verse above is saying that G-d is like a sun, when His name is Yud-Hay-Vav-Hay and like a shield when His name is Elokim.

Quick review of names of G-d:  name of Yud-Hay-Vav-Hay is the merciful, all giving G-d and the name Elokim is the aspect of G-d that actually gives punishments and also put into place laws of physical nature.

So, this verse is saying, that when G-d is all mercy He is like the sun, and when He is about punishment He is about punishment.

Okay, what are we talking about here.  Let’s go to the example the verse tells us about, the sun itself.

G-d created the powerful sun.  Bright, hot, too hot to bear.  Source of all living growth, but still too hot to bear.  Hence, the ozone layer, shielding mankind from too hot a sun.

Now translate that into how that explains G-d.  The name Yud-Hay-Vav-Hay is about G-d continuously willing the world into existence.  That you and I stand here, alive, created beings, is because G-d is right now willing us to be around.  That concept is mind-blowing, just like the heat of a sun, so powerful an idea, illuminating to us our nothingness, that a person would not be able to stand erect with such an understanding.  Just like we wouldn’t be able to stand the heat of the sun.

So…just like G-d shields us from the sunlight that is too bright, G-d created a shield for our sense of nothingness.  And that is to interact with us with His name Elokim, which is the name used to discuss consequences of actions.  From the Tanya translation, here we goL  “In order to conceal from created beings the Divine illumination of Havayah that is within them, and that is responsible for their existence” G-d works the world with His name Elokim and “Only then can people perceive themselves as existing independently of their life-force. And this perception in turn makes it possible for created beings to consider and feel themselves to be tangibly existing.”

You and I, we concur maybe with the old philosopher who opined, “I think, therefore, I am”.  But that isn’t what tells us we exist.  When talking physics and intelligent design, everything you and I and all the world is, can be reduced to particles and nothingness.  You begin to realize nothing is real.  We’re G-d’s creation.  What makes us then sure that we exist… is the concept that there are consequences to our actions.  Gedulah  — G-d’s greatness created us.  Gevurah – the attribute of strictness allowed us to perceive ourselves as tangibly existing.  If I do a mitzvah that will be rewarded or G-d forbid do wrong and get punished, hey, I must exist.

G-d created us and lets us be aware of our existence by “restraining’ his unbridled giving and letting the world run with some pains and punishments, that is with Gevurah woven in.

Let’s go back to our sun example we started with.  We are told that in the Messianic stage, Hashem will take out the sun from its shield and the wicked will perish from the intensity of the heat, not able to take it, while the righteous will enjoy the added brightness to the world.  (Yup, we are not that worried about the depletion of the ozone, having known that someday the shield of the sun will be ripped away.)

We are told by our prophets that from G-d no bad happens.  So then how do we explain the pain in the world?  We are told that when Moshiach comes, when that shield is taken from the sun, we will be able to see how the bad and the pain was really all good.

To our limited vision, pain is bad, death is bad, suffering is awful.  But all those factors in life allow us to begin to ponder our existence, to begin to question, if there is death, what should I do with my life before I die.  If there is pain, how can I alleviate it.  It gives us a sense that we matter, that we are not just a figment of G-d’s imagination.  We, here and now, you and me, because of the pain and suffering in the world, are able to take responsibility for our lives and not be blinded by a feeling of worthlessness in the face of G-d’s almighty power.

When Moshiach comes, then G-d can take away the shield from the sun and reveal Himself fully.  The righteous who ran with the ball and questioned their existence and took responsibility for their choices in life, they will be blessed by that added brightness and light.  The wicked, however, will be pffft, gone, up in smoke in the realization that all exists only through G-d’s thought, not by their own reckoning.

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