The Good Struggle — keep running the race

Olympics.  Able bodies, arms, legs, moving like well-oiled pistons.  Strength and muscle exhibited as the runner gains mile after mile until – finally – exultation – a cross of the finish line.

Special Olympics.  A test more grueling, almost ugly to watch in the clenched determination to make it to the finish line despite obstacles and pain.  A cripple with only one leg hobbles past, compensating with implements.  Another one, on two crutches, teeters along determinedly.  One mile, he gains.  Then, wham – a screw gives on one crutch and he lands flat out.  You cheer him on as he gets up and keeps going, now with only one crutch.  He’s got only a few more yards left when, bam, he’s down on the ground again.  You hold your breath.  Will he give up now?  Grimacing, yet happy in an odd way to persevere, he begins to crawl.  Inch by torturous inch he pulls himself until – finally –exultation – he makes it, barely, but he makes it, across the finish line.

We Jews, we’re running the Special Olympics in history right now.  Used to be our forefathers ran forward, ably.  Yaakov wrestled that angel with force and might.  He held that evil force down until dawn wiped away the danger.  We, however, we teeter about trying to compensate for our vast emotional and spiritual disabilities.  One day, then another.  Pushing through life, we must live true to our mission no matter how torturous the strain on our soul might feel.  Every muscle aches with the effort.  Push on, past the Holocaust.  Stumble on past the hypocritical leaders who were exposed as shams.  Keep running the course despite the confusion.  Teeter, wobble, get up again  or even crawl.  It is just a few short yards now to the finish line.  The final epoch is soon unfolding.

C’mon, onwards, because soon, for those who continued running the good race, it will soon be time for exultation.  If we teeter onwards, we’ll make it across that finish line!  Hold steady until “alos haShachar” until dawn wipes away the pain.

 

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Haftorah this Week – Four Who Will Connect to G-d

The Haftorah is from Yeshayahu.  The reading begins with the complaint of G-d against our nation for not doing the services we ought to have been doing for Him.  Verse 23:  You did not bring me a lamb…

Did the Jews really not do the service in the Temple?  We know that even as they sinned, the services and sacrifices continued.  So what is the complaint here?

We are told by G-d, “Torahsee al ta’azohvoo – don’t leave My Torah.”  Really that sentence should read, Torah Al Ta’azohvoo – don’t leave Torah.  What is the emphasis on the word MY that is placed before Torah.

Many folks go ahead and try to tailor Torah to their own ridiculous desires.  Snip it, pinch it, sew it up and use it for their own motives.  When folks brought a sin-offering from stolen goods, was it a sin-offering to G-d…or them just being “frum”, doing as the neighbors did?  If we go to synagogue and pray, but don’t mean it, and do it for the social aspect of keeping up with the Schwartz’s, are we praying to G-d?  If we keep Shabbos just because in our neighborhood that is the thing to do, with no thought of keeping Shabbos to proclaim G-d’s Creation of the world, is Shabbos about G-d or about our children finding a great playdate?  The lament of G-d is that the Karbanos were not brought for HIM.

That is why we were thrust into exile.  And that bitter, long exile will end well, eventually.  Our Haftorah continues with the assurance that Hashem will open gates of knowledge of awareness and pour it into the world.  Like water being poured to those parched with thirst, Hashem will ensure that everyone (even those logging in remotely to this website) will have access to pure Torah learning.  When that happens, the Haftorah continues, “This one will say, I am for Hashem; and this one will call in the name of Yaakov, and this one will write on his hand ‘for Hashem’ and in the name of Israel they will take on.”

RASHI (quoting from Avoth d’Rabbi Nathan):  the first person is the righteous, the second are those who are the sons of the wicked, the third are the wicked repenting and the fourth and the righteous converts.

An interesting side note, folks – there are four types of people listed in this Passuk in the Haftorah.  Remind you of the four sons at the Pesach Seder?  Professor Herman Branover who is the founder of the field of science called magneto-hydrodynamics was a famous Russian refusenik who found his way to G-d and observance in Soviet Russia.  He wanted to see scientifically how long Jewish identity could last without Torah observance.  His result is startling.  It is four generations.  Anyone who knows that he/she is Jewish, must have had a sincerely religious ancestor at max four generations up.  That is the four sons of the Haggada.  Chacham – the wise generation who kept Mitzvos, vibrantly attached to G-d awareness.  Then came the Rasha – the wicked sons who turned from G-d.  They are followed by the Tam – a generation who has no clue what it means to be Jewish (bagels for breakfast on Sunday type of Jews).  The last generation doesn’t even know who they are – they cannot even ask about their identity and marry out.  There is no next generation, unfortunately.

We are reassured in this week’s Haftorah that there will be a reversal of that when Moshiach comes.  There will be converts walking in our doors, there will be repentant sinners, there will be children of those sinners who bring their fathers back into the fold.  And, yes, there will always be, there always has been, the proud Jews who never lost their way.  May we merit to be in that category.

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Harness Your Evil Inclination (and put ‘im to work)

When a car hits an icy patch in the road and begins to skid, drivers are told not to turn against the skid.  If the car is skidding rightwards and the driver yanks the steering wheel immediately to the left, there would be too much friction and the car would flip itself over, wheels spinning in the air.  Drivers are taught to start to move the wheel in the direction of the skid, and then, once they gain control of the steering wheel, then they move the car back against the skid.

This principle sometimes helps with Chinuch [pedagogy] – when a child is slipping, we stand to lose total control of the child when we try to yank control quickly opposite the will of the child.  Sometimes, you need to go along with some Mishigas [craziness] to gain control of the child and be able to safely bring the child out of the skid.  Not completely should you go with the Mishigas, but to gain control of the child by seeming to start off with the child’s direction, and then easing the child back into the direction that is right.

This concept is not just for the Chinuch of our children – we need it for our own lives.  Dovid HaMelech says that his Yetzer Harah [evil inclination] would tell him to go to places where he shouldn’t, to “have fun”.  If he were to have fought it fully, he would have lost the battle.  Therefore, Dovid HaMelech lets us know how he tricked his Yetzer.  He would say, okay, let me go “huhtzkeh”[party], and he would get up and get ready to go.  It is quite the reality that when our evil inclination is pushing us to go places where we shouldn’t, we are motivated to get ready fast.  So, chick-chock, Dovid HaMelech was up and dressed and ready to go.  Once he was ready to go he would run to the study hall quickly, outsmarting the Yetzer HaRah.    We need to learn how to go with our skids and take the control of ourselves back from the Yetzer HaRah.  We can even use our Yetzer Harah to bribe ourselves to do the right thing. Rav Dessler describes how he loved a hot coffee in the morning – and he used that desire to get himself going to morning prayers – if he was up on time, he got his coffee.  He used a “ta’ava” [desire] to push himself to Zrizus [alacrity to good].

The question is, if we are “going with the skid”, using our Yetzer Hara into getting control of ourselves, is that a copout or is that the way things were meant to be?

G-d says, “I created the Yetzer Harah, I created the Torah as the spice for it.”  The Yetzer Hara could be harnessed, should be used, can be an ingredient in our worship of G-d.  Those desires which might seem bad can be used for good.  That is why in your Shema, you say that you will serve G-d “Bechal Levavcha” – and there is a double Bais letter even though only one is called for in the spelling of that word.  We are taught that one Bais represents the Yetzer Tov, which naturally turns towards good, and one Bais for the work we do to serve G-d with our Yetzer Harah.  Know your Yetzer Hara.  Know your children’s Yetzer Hara.  Then harness that Yetzer Hara, put it to work in doing good.

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Rabbi Dessler’s ideas can be read in Strive for Truth.  You can read a bit more about this Torah philosopher here:  http://www.jewishmediaresources.com/290/rav-dessler-the-life-and-impact-of-rabbi-eliyahu

For an interesting Q&A about this quote of the creation of the Yetzer Harah, read here: http://ohr.edu/ask_db/ask_main.php/27/Q2/

 

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The Concept of Tzniyus

 

Tzniyus, we jump to the word’s translation of modesty.  However, that translation doesn’t do it justice.    Tzniyus actually is about measurement, putting things in its proper weights, and in fact, in one place in the Torah (when discussing proper measurements) it is used directly to mean weights and scales.

Up until the Chayt [sin] of Eitz HaDa’as [tree of knowledge], Adam and Chava walked around buck naked.  And never noticed.  After the sin, the first thing they notice, is “OMG, we’re naked!”  What changed?  Their eyesight?  The feel of cool wind on bare skin?  Nope.  Not that.  Their perception, their measurement of the value of each object is what changed.

Let’s examine the Chayt to understand it.  Before Adam and Chava ate from the Eitz HaDa’as, Adam had a perception of what each object’s mission in the world was to be and also viewed everything as true and false, not right and wrong.  The difference between true and false and right and wrong is that true and false cannot be blurred.  There is no grey area in true and false equations.  1 + 1 = 2 – that statement is true.  It is not right, it is truth that cannot be argued.  Mitzvos are truths –that is why we call Torah, Toras Emes [a Torah of truth].  Before sinning, Adam and Chava knew that the wrong things were not just wrong, they were false, clashing against truth.  After eating the fruit, they got the gift of “dimyon” of imagination, of blowing things way out of perspective.

So before Chayt, Adam and Chava saw each other naked and it meant nothing other than the truth of what it meant.  Their physical attributes they knew were only to be focused on in the proper time, and they didn’t get sidetracked with their imagination blowing things up.

Let me explain it another way.  The Gemorah talks about a couple who was very Tzinyusdik.  The wife was missing one arm and the husband did not know that.  The question the Gemorah asks is, “who was the more Tzniyusdike one?”  I pose this question and get a kick out of hearing the reasoning.  Some folks say, ‘the woman – she never uncovered herself.’  The Gemorah never said she didn’t uncover herself.  Some say, ‘the man – he never looked at his wife.’  The Gemorah didn’t say that either.  All it said was that he had no clue she was limbless.  The Gemorah then answers that the man was the more Tzinyusdike one.  Remembering what I just told you above, let us reason this out.  The man saw his wife as a whole unit, a whole person, not just good boobs, nice eyes, hot legs and, oops, missing hand.  He saw his comrade, his love, his soul mate.  And, therefore, he did not get sidetracked into focusing on any limb and never noticed she was missing one.

That is also the meaning of the Midrash that talks about Avraham’s realization that Sara was beautiful.  Isn’t it puzzling, as they near Mitzrayim [Egypt], suddenly Avraham wakes up and says, “hey, I’m married to a beautiful woman.”  C’mon it can’t be that simple.  Was he blind?  So the Meforshim look at the scenario to figure out what is going on.  And what is going on is that up until now Avraham knew he was married to a beautiful woman, the whole woman.  However, as they neared Mitzrayim, Avraham took a look again, putting his view into the mindset of the Mitzriyim.  And he got scared, ‘uh oh – I know she’s the most beautiful, but now I see the Mitzriyim will be able to focus on each aspect of her beauty in a base way,  Through their eyes, they will be able to say, she’s one hot mama.” Therefore, Avraham hid Sarah.

If you look at the Halachos [laws] of Tzniyus, you will see that it is about keeping the whole picture of the woman in focus, instead of letting anyone take her apart into irrelevant pieces.  The parts of our body we don’t have to cover are the face, the hands and the feet.   Why those?  The face is the word Panim, which can also be read to as P’nim [inside].    Our face, with its expressions, with its language, with its eyes to the soul, allows folks to get to know who we are inside.  That is what we are allowed to show the world because that is our whole self.  Our hands we are allowed to show, because that is our creativity – that we are allowed to show.  And our feet are our balance and where we go and how we go – that we are allowed to show.  All the things we are allowed to show are our uniqueness, the essence of our Neshama [soul].  The rest are things that would get folks sidetracked from who we are and would turn us into objects of imagination, leading to our being cheapened.

Jewish women, do yourself the favor of keeping your bodies within the framework of your whole personality by keeping the laws of Tzniyus.  Don’t become random body parts.

NOTE TO READERS:  I’m not original in thought in formulating this.  Most of the material is based on the writing of Rabbi Shraga Silverstein’s amazing book: The Antidote: Human Sexuality, along with Shiurim by Rabbi Friedman and Rav Shimon Green.

 

 

postscript:  There I was in shul listening to the reading of the Torah.  Some women I know were there, too.  The Torah reader got to the verse that prohibits the placing of a stairway in front of any altar and the words were intoned, “so that nakedness would not be revealed.”  I looked around at the women listening attentively to the words, as their Chumash rested on their exposed thighs as their mini skirts crept upwards.

I thought, the Kohain wore a tunic so no thigh should be exposed, even as he was wearing trousers that covered his thigh!  Holy women!  How can we walk around in mini skirts?

A Sefer Torah is never shamed by being uncovered needlessly.  When not in use, it is swaddled and put away.  Why are Jewish daughters shaming themselves by uncovering their bodies to every wanton leering shmo-bagel?   Why are some of  our daughters’ skirts  reminiscent of a hooker’s?

Bring back respect for our bodies.  Tniyut – it’s about glorifying our daughters.   Bring back Jewish pride – bring back the dignity of Tzniyut.  The crowning glory of Jewish women is Tzinyut – let’s bring it back.

After all, if we really cared to understand, there was no mistaking that exposing a thigh wantonly is not our ideal.

 


 

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Every Person Counts in Klal Yisroel — All for one and one for all

KI SISA – WHEN YOU COUNT

KI SISA – WHEN YOU COUNT is most often the translation given.  Yet, the words Kee Seesa actually means “when you lift up”.  The point of the count was to raise the self-esteem of each person counted.    YOU COUNT, my friend, to G-d and to our nation.

When Jews are to be counted, they should not be counted numerically.  Rather, they donate a half-shekel coin and the coins are then counted.  Everyone has something to contribute, is the message to us.

Why only a half-coin?  To teach us that no person is a whole entity on his own.  We need each other.

(Maturity at 20 – only those aged 20 and older are counted. That is the age of a sense of understanding ramifications of our actions. That is why a person is not liable for the death penalty by Heaven until this age. )

Verse 15:  “the rich cannot give more, the poor cannot give less’ – all are equal in the eyes of G-d.   When it comes to exemplifying the importance of every single soul, G-d orders us to signify each soul is equally important to Him.

More to follow, my friends, who all “count”

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Let’s Talk About Clothing – the Emperor Should Have Clothes On (as should we)

In this week’s Parsha, beginning in Chapter 28, we find the commandments related to the Priestly families’ clothing.

Aron & his sons were singled out from among the Jews “Leh’kahanoh Lee” to be a Kohen for Me.  Rashi:  Lekahanoh – what does this mean – -“to serve.”

As part and parcel of being a Kohain, there were special clothing (4 for the regular Kohain and 8 for the Kohain Gadol – if you remember in the past we said four is the building blocks of the world.  7 is also about this world and physicality – 7 colors, 7 days of week, 7 notes in song and 8 is world to come/spiritual – the Kohain Gadol wore 8 garments).  We once discussed in this blog the building of Tabernacle and how that mirrors creation of world.  This week, we talk about the Kohain’s clothing, so we go back to the original articles of clothing created by G-d.

The first time the Torah discusses clothing is after Chayt Adam (after the sin of Adam and Chava of eating the fruit that was forbidden).  The narrative says that upon eating the fruit they ended up realizing they were naked.  G-d, therefore, made them clothing.  In fact, the Midrash says they got the same clothing as the Kohain Gadol.

RABBEINU BACHYA:  Man is the Sechel/rational/brain.  He was placed in Gan Eden – he was placed in midst of Torah study.  He was instructed about two trees (positive and negative commandments of the Torah).  He was not to be alone, G-d gave him a “helpmate:, a woman as a wife.  This is the body we get to actualize our thoughts.  You see a brain cannot accomplish alone – it needs the body function to carry out its will.  The snake is the evil inclination/evil force.  He begins with the function aspect, with the body, trying to get us to “taste” of the physical stuff we should not be around.  Once that happens, the body “feeds” the intellect the forbidden.  The intellect tries to rationalize and want what the body wants.  At this point things flip in the world.  Up until now, there was true and false in the world (not right and wrong).  Now, with getting bodily desires in the picture, everything is clouded and there is right and wrong, rather than true and false.  Man and woman (body and intellect) realize they are “naked”, that they are stripped of seeing truth as is.  Man and woman hide, but G-d seeks them out – there will be a day of death for all of us when we will have to answer to G-d, and G-d will say, “Ayecha – where are you – what is your spiritual standing.”  Our rationalization will be “our bodily desires made us mess up.”  The body will then say, “the evil force in the world misled me”.  The punishment is painful sensations in the body that craved the pleasurable sensations.  But eventually, G-d will “clothe” body/soul combination in a spiritual light and undo the harm.

In this week’s Torah reading, it talks about the Kohain’s clothing and how (v. 2) his clothing will be “for respect and for beauty.” (v. 3) – the clothing were made to “sanctify” him ..so that, (v. 4) “he can serve Me”  Seems clothing makes the Kohain and also gives him the ability to serve.  Why did the clothing make the man?

According to the Sefer HaChinuch, the Kohain had to have the purest, loftiest intentions, and being clothed in specific clothing kept them focused.  Think of the little girl wearing the party dress — how she swishes it and walks with dainty steps.  Clothing can make people act differently.

The Malbim explains the commandment to make the bigdei Kehuna was given twice. Firstly, it was directed to Moshe Rabbeinu and then to the craftsmen. The craftsmen and tailors actually assembled the priestly garments, but Moshe had to first instruct Aharon in ways to perfect the character traits they represented. This character development is the ultimate bigdei KehunaFor just as our wardrobe covers our bodies, so too, our middos cover our neshamos (souls).

The Akeidas Yitzchok explains the Hebrew word for character trait, midda, also means “measure”. There was a mitzva that the bigdei Kehuna had to be a perfect fit – made to measure (mido vad, his tunic should be made k’midoso, according to his size, Yoma 23b). It is not one size fits all.  We have to figure out how to give ourselves the correct measurement of each character trait.

The Kohain Gadol would wear something on his forehead to remember to focus his thoughts to Hashem.  From Rabbi Lazer Brody, quoting the Breslover Rebbe:

Rebbe Nachman of Breslev explains (Sichos HaRan, 46), “One must exercise great caution in guarding thoughts, for thoughts can yield tangible outcomes. Know, that each of a person’s respective attributes that is higher than another has more far-reaching implications. For example: A foot can kick an object so far, but a hand can throw higher than a foot can kick. Speech can be heard at level way beyond where the hand is able to throw. Hearing is higher than speech, for one can hear the thundering of a cannon from miles away. Sight extends even further, for one can see the stars in the sky. Thoughts are very, very lofty, and extend beyond everything, and therefore must be protected even more than anything else!

There is a verse elsewhere in the Torah where we Jews are told  “and you shall be to Me a nation of priests”.  Therefore, lessons and instructions for the priests within our nation have ramifications for us as a people.  Just as the priests had special clothing of significance that differentiated them and sanctified them, so too must the Jews have a manner of dress that sets them apart and makes them more spiritual/sanctified.   We should always look more dignified, remembering we are soldiers of Hashem, representing G-dliness in the world.  Examples:  clothing of dignity, tzniyus, etc.

Some related laws to clothing of Jews:

 A Torah sage who goes about with stained clothing is liable for the death penalty.

One should not wear exceedingly cheap clothing (as it takes away his self-esteem) – nor should one wear exceedingly expensive clothing (as it leads to arrogance).

One should spend extra money to have good shoes.

People put on a special garment for prayer, just as the priest put on special clothes for the service – within Yeshiva crowds, men put on their jacket and hat before beginning prayers and Chassidim add a belt called a ‘gahrtil”

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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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