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Rabbi Yossi's Blog

Welcome to Rabbi Yossi's Blog; where you can expect to find thoughts on current events, Torah learning and Jewish spirituality. And of course, some good Jewish humor.

The destination is the journey

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Photo by Cara Fuller on Unsplash

We’re so used to being focused on a goal that we don’t appreciate the value in the journey. Focusing on the destination can often be detrimental if we don’t achieve the goal. In addition it sets us up for disappointment when we invariably compare ourselves to others.

 

There’s another way to live and measure success. That’s by thinking of the journey as the destination. Each step along the way is a goal in and of itself - measurable against ourselves. Am I a step ahead of where I was yesterday? Am I just a bit wiser today than I was yesterday? Am I just a little more caring than I was yesterday? Am I just a little more generous than I was yesterday?

As long as I am on a journey, I’m achieving my goal. As long as I am changing, expanding, learning and developing myself I’m achieving my goal. I’m reaching my destination every single day by being mindful of the journey that I am continually traveling.

Our Torah portion alludes to this idea in how it frames the 42 stops our ancestors took on their journey through the desert to Israel. They’re all described as the journey through which we left Egypt. All 42 stops along the way. Obviously there is only one journey from within the Egyptian border to outside the border. After that, while they may be continually distancing themselves from Egypt, they’re not actually leaving Egypt.

Understanding Egypt metaphorically as a constricting and limiting space, - as its Hebrew name, Mitzrayim,implies - we can appreciate the message. Our past accomplishment quickly becomes our new ceiling, our new Egypt. What we achieved yesterday needs to be viewed as good for yesterday but not enough for today. And we can’t settle on today’s accomplishments, tomorrow we have to build on them.

And we don’t have to look outside to measure our success, we measure against ourselves. Staying on the journey is the true destination.

Thank you, for WHAT?!

miguel-luis-W_6b8pWBUKY-unsplash.jpgPhoto by Miguel Luis on Unsplash 

I’m not sure why everyone is busy reflecting on the past year right now considering that Rosh Hashanah was close to four months ago…

On a more serious note, it’s easy to reflect on the past year (or two) and feel down rather than uplifted. There’s no getting around the fact that the past two years have been tough on everyone. The incessant cacophony of acrimony and accusations in the media, especially as amplified through social channels, only make matters worse. And looking to the future can be downright frightening for so many…

I was reminded today of a profound message that emerges from the Exodus narrative that’s being studied in the weekly Torah portion nowadays.

One of the famous ethical teachings of our sages is that of “hakarat hatov”, appreciating and recognizing the good. And as with many Talmudic teachings, this one too is anchored in scripture. 

There are in fact many biblical sources where this idea is found, including various Mitzvahs that are rooted in this principle (like honoring one’s parents and bikkurim). Other famous biblical examples include Moses not being the one to implement the first three plagues due to his life having been saved by the water and the earth earlier in his life, and the entire people waiting while Moses’ sister Miriam healed before continuing to travel, in appreciation for her waiting and watching over Moses when he was placed in the basket. 

In addition to the examples above, there are many others that highlight the same value. However, when the Talmud wishes to convey this message, the ethical and moral value of recognizing and appreciating the good, a particularly peculiar example is chosen. 

The Torah limits the ability for certain ancient nations to convert to Judaism. It then highlights some exceptions, including the Egyptians. And the reason for the exception? “You were a sojourner in his (i.e. the Egyptians) land.”

That’s interesting. Last I checked we weren’t treated all that well while in Egypt all those years ago. Yet the Torah lists their “hospitality” as the rationale for the conversion exception vis a vis the Egyptians. What’s going on?!

Consider this. While the experience was none too pleasant to say the least, it was however the formative time for our people. We experienced unprecedented population growth in Egypt, transforming in the process from a large family to an entire nation. 

While the slavery was obviously negative, there were nonetheless some positives to be extracted from the experience. And that’s what the sages are highlighting by pointing to this example as the scriptural example of “hakarat hatov”, appreciating and recognizing the good. 

This idea provides a profound and powerful lesson. While these recent years may have been challenging, we have the ability to choose what about them we highlight. Do we focus on the negative or do we find the positive to highlight?

I’m confident that upon reflection we can all find wonderful experiences and lessons from the past couple years that have enriched us, expanded our horizons and facilitated growth. 

My blessing to you as we transition to a new period in time is that you find the positive in all of your experiences - especially the ones that feel so challenging.


I know who you are but who am I?

sammy-williams-ufgOEVZuHgM-unsplash.jpgPhoto by Sammy Williams on Unsplash 

David was walking downtown and was surprised to meet his long lost friend, Moshe. 

“Moshe! It’s so good to see you!” he exclaimed. “My Moshe, how you’ve changed over the years. I hardly recognized you, the glasses, the gray hair – you even look a little shorter…” 

“Excuse me,” replied the man, “but my name is not Moshe.” 

“What!? You even changed your name!!”

It is not all that uncommon that we mistake one person for another but have you ever mistaken your own identity?

Which reminds me of the fellow with the identity crisis. When he was dressed he would be able to differentiate himself from others by the way he was dressed. He struggled though when he was at the bathhouse and everyone looked more or less the same. 

He finally found a therapist who came up with a solution; he was to tie a red string around his big toe and then he would know that he was the guy with the red string on his toe. 

Everything was going swimmingly until one time he was in the bathhouse and the red string came loose and ended up on someone else’s toe. What to do!?

Finally, he walked over to the fellow and said to him, “Excuse me sir, please help me out. I see the red string on your toe so I know who YOU are. But who am I??”

In all seriousness, I think “mistaken identity” can sometimes be the way to describe many modern Jewish people. We have come to think that Judaism is about caring for global warming and social justice, and we seem to have forgotten the holy mission with which we have been charged.

Being confident in our Jewish identity is likely the single most important element of being Jewish today. 

Just like when our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt, the Torah informs us that it was in the merit of their maintaining a distinct identity, apart from the mainstream Egyptian culture of the time, that they were saved. 

Life is full of turbulence. We can make all the plans we’d like but we can never fully anticipate every possible twist and turn. To navigate life we need to maintain a distinct identity that is privy to the whims of society. This anchors us and guides us, and helps us successfully navigate the challenges we face. 

The good news is that while we live in a physical world, we are really “amphibious creatures” – because we have a wholly spiritual side too, our soul. 

It’s not enough to nourish our physical body, we have to remember our spiritual, G-dly side as well. And until we recognize that side of ourselves and nourish it, we will consistently be mistaken about our own identity.

As Jewish people we have a 3300+ year heritage that has helped generations before us maintain their identity and navigate the challenges in their path. 

It’s time we “find ourselves”. It’s time we re-engage in, and strengthen our connection with, our heritage. And the good news is that we don’t have to look very far to find it, it’s right here within us. 

What do you think? I think it’s time to look inside and find yourself!

Its a false world after all - or is it?

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It’s been a very confronting week for many of us. An obviously Jewish student was targeted and murdered inside his school and the media ignored it. The police are trying to write it off as a random crime, when it seems pretty certain to have been a hate crime. 

Watching in real time as chaos and acute danger descends on Afghanistan, threatening the lives of millions of innocent people. The political lives of our elected leaders seem to take precedence over the literal lives of so many. 

Add to it the dark ominous skies we’ve been experiencing this week, caused by fires in our virtual backyard. We know people who have evacuated (as I’m sure you do too) and friends of friends whose properties were completely burned down. 

Not to mention all the Covid news, along with the by-now expected acrimony.

It all adds up to a deeply unsettling feeling of uncertainty. Is there any institution that can be trusted? Is there anywhere that we can feel safe?

While this is a somewhat global view, it's often reflected in our personal lives too. And when the people and things that we’ve relied on let us down, it can have ripple effects that are hard to overcome. 

The reality is that it’s time we realize that it’s a “false world”. The motivation behind so much of daily life is twisted by personal benefit and convenience, and not guided by principle or immutable values. 

Coming to this realization can be very uneasy at first (to say the least) but in reality it can lead to a much more liberated existence. Our priorities must be guided by our connection to our “Higher Power”, not by the expectation of others. Our choices must be determined by timeless values, not timely trends. And our decisions must be guided by what’s right, not by what’s expedient. 

And when we do, we’ll come to appreciate a whole different dimension of reality, a deeper and more aligned reality: That our world is, in truth, a garden. That’s how it was created to function and that’s its truest state of existence. The more we live our life in tune with that reality, the more that reality crystallizes in our daily experience too.

It’s certainly true that initially it takes more effort to live life this way, but the payoff is easily worth the investment. We’ll discover deeper friendships and more meaningful experiences. Our life will be filled with value instead of things and despite the chaos around us, we’ll be able to be confident in our mission.

Coming to recognize the “false world”, and it’s deeper “world as G-d’s garden” reality, enables us to build a beautiful, deep and true life. A life that is not easily derailed by events around us; rather, it spreads light, positivity and hope to all with whom we come in contact.

 

Modern Monarchy?

Crown.jpg Photo by Lians Jadan on Unsplash

Let’s face it, while some parts of Jewish observance are warm and fuzzy (think: caring for the sick and the needy, animal welfare and the like), there are other parts of Jewish practice that take more dedication, conviction and commitment (think: Shabbat, Kosher and the like). 

Then there are parts of the Torah which can truly present concern for the thinking Jew today: The ideas and ideals of the Torah that, to our Western mindset, seem outmoded and archaic (to say the least). You know what I’m referring to - slavery, eradicating entire nations and the like; things that are not exactly in vogue today, to say the least.

In fact, each one is understood in a unique manner and there is much wisdom to be discovered, but they’re beyond the scope of this message. 

Instead I wanted to highlight something from this week’s Torah portion: The Mitzvah to appoint a king. 

Appointing a king? Yes, that’s one of the topics of this week’s Torah portion and it’s one that people find difficult to relate to. I mean, a king is the antithesis of our system of government; representation by the people for the people. 

So how can I, a thinking Jew, understand this text so that I can be comfortable studying it today? 

As with every part of the Torah, the more we study and the better we understand, all the more relevance is discovered. And there is no difference in this instance. You see, there are a few radical ideas that distinguish the Jewish king from any other monarch:

  • A typical king obtained their power by virtue of force and heritage; a Jewish king obtained their power from the people. The people are the ones who accept the king, the king doesn’t impose his will on them. 

  • A typical king would do everything to flaunt their wealth and their power; the Jewish king is required to limit both. 

  • And a typical king was the ultimate power in the kingdom and imposed himself and his rule everywhere he could; a Jewish king is commanded to keep in mind that there is a greater power than he, the Ultimate Power in the universe, G-d.

Take a look at these ideas - I have a feeling that you might find them relevant too. When we are cognizant of G-d Above, when we remember that it’s not about us, rather it’s about the purpose and role that we have to serve, life takes on a whole new look. Suddenly we can see more clearly the needs of others, and not only how they can serve us. Suddenly we feel confident enough to give and share from the blessings we have been granted. And suddenly our life is imbued with a sense of purpose and mission.

Perhaps the information about a king is actually not all that outdated at all. In fact, it seems precisely tailored for our modern era of narcissistic self-centeredness. Maybe the modern monarchy is all about being king over ourselves?

Feeling inadequate?

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Many of us are afflicted by feelings of inadequacy. Why this is, I’ll have to leave to the psychologists among us. But what to do about it? Allow me to share some wisdom from this week’s Torah portion, Matot-Masei.
It’s actually a double portion; the second, Masei, outlines the journeys of the Jewish people from Egypt to the Promised Land. There were a total of 42 stations along the way, where they stopped for varying lengths of time, until they arrived on the border of the future Land of Israel.
In relating this account the Torah employs a peculiar choice of words, “These are the journeys of the children of Israel who left the land of Egypt,” implying that all the journeys are part of leaving Egypt. Yet in the most literal sense it was only one journey that took them past the borders of Egypt. While not yet in Israel, they had certainly left Egypt.
Why the implication, that obviously doesn’t reflect reality, that all the 42 steps of their journey were part of leaving Egypt? And most importantly, what’s the lesson for us? If it’s included in the Torah there must be a lesson. That’s what the Torah is - guidance for life.
The country Egypt is a specific geographic location; they physically left Egypt when they crossed the border. But Egypt also represents an attitude. The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim-מצרים, also means limitations or boundaries. Our role is to leave “Mitzrayim,” to grow beyond the limitations and boundaries that confined and limited us until this point.
And this process is not a one time effort - it is ongoing. When we grow beyond a particular limitation, that soon becomes our new normal and it’s time once again to grow and develop - beyond our new reality.
And if you’re feeling inadequate? Looking at the next person’s accomplishments and realizing how distant you are from them? The fact that there are 42 stops along the way to the Holy Land is an important reminder. G-d never intended the route from Egypt to Israel to take one step; it’s a journey that is made of many small steps along the way.
Each person has their particular set of circumstances, their particular “Mitzrayim” personal limitations, to grow beyond. And each person has their own achievements to measure against. Have you taken a step forward? That’s what counts!
And truth be told, if you’ve perhaps taken a step backward, that is part of the journey too. Look in the Torah narrative of the 42 journeys and you will find some stops where rebellion and sin took place, yet they are counted among the steps leading to the Holy Land.
The main thing is to keep on going and keep on growing.


 

Are We Too Far Ahead?

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Leadership is a tricky role; by definition, one is not a leader if they aren’t out in front and leading. However, a leader also has to know his or her constituents - it wouldn’t help if the leader is so far ahead that they end up all alone. They would no longer be leaders in that circumstance either. In other words, one could be an ineffectual leader either because they’re not leading or because they’re leading by too much.
This is true about innovation too - there are many amazing technology companies that failed early on, only to be followed by another company, providing virtually the same service or platform that becomes wildly successful. It’s not because the idea was bad - ultimately it was highly successful - it’s because the timing was off. They were too early and the market wasn’t ready for it yet.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, OBM, former Chief Rabbi of the UK, explains that this is exactly what Moses is highlighting when asking G-d to choose his successor (as discussed in this week’s Torah Portion). 
Moses asks G-d to appoint a leader who “will go forth before them and come before them, who will lead them out and bring them in.” The verse seems to repeat itself, that is until you look a little closer: “will go forth before them and come before them,” this leader needs to lead. But this leader needs to also ensure that the people are following “who will lead them out and bring them in.”
Great leaders push people beyond their perceived limits. But great leaders can also provoke some resentment when people aren’t ready to follow.
The Jewish people have been collectively charged by G-d to lead the world to a better place. To make this world more in tune with the Divine, until we usher in the era of Moshiach and our world will permanently be transformed to goodness.
We’ve been at this work for a few thousand years, and in the interim it’s provoked the enmity of many an antisemite. The fact that there is antisemitism shows us that we’re accomplishing something. The fact that it has far, far less traction than it once did means that we’ve almost accomplished our goal.
We’re not too far ahead, the world is ready. In fact, more people today than ever before are searching for depth and meaning. We have the tools of elevating and refining this world and we need to share them. 
Torah provides guidance and perspective, we need to study it and be sure to share what we learn with others. We’ve been tasked with a mission; it’s our responsibility to lead. When we do, the world will be all the better for it.

 

How Do We Handle Tragedy?

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Although I deeply enjoy the work I do, there is one thing that challenges me more than anything else: comforting people in times of tragedy. I’m human too (yes, believe it or not) and most of the time I don’t have words either. I don’t have wisdom to offer every time something terrible takes place and I certainly have no inkling as to why G-d chooses that such tragedies take place.
The horrific collapse of the condo building in Florida early yesterday morning leaves us questioning. Why? How? It’s unfair!
When tragedy strikes we have to reflect about how we can change for the better as a result of this event. How can we each add in positivity and light to make this world a better place?
Silence is an excellent immediate response to tragedy. But following the silence there must be action. Action that we can immediately implement.
Questions like “why did this happen?” or “how did this happen?” or “what caused it to happen?” or even “how can we prevent it in the future?” are mostly questions for law enforcement, politicians, health care professionals - or perhaps, G-d. But none of them are in my direct control.
While I may not have anything to say, I know that blame, bickering and hatred are not solutions. Regardless of how emotional one may get by events around us - or even those that happen to us directly - divisiveness has never healed anyone.
Emotion can be positive when it motivates us to do more than we may have otherwise. However, when that emotion is misdirected toward things over which we have no immediate direct control, we’re wasting a precious opportunity to better the world.
The only directly relevant question that I need to immediately ask - and answer - is, what can I do? I can add positivity in my personal life. I can be more cognizant of what is happening to those around me. I can stop and help when I see someone in need. I can volunteer to help those who are hurting.
There are so many things that we can immediately do, today, in the wake of tragedy. What will you do?

Is Judaism Rational?

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Some like to think that Judaism is rational but I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s not. In fact, trying to rationalize Judaism will lead to abandoning it altogether. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t study - we have to understand all that we can. But we also need to acknowledge that there are somethings that we simply cannot.
Western society tends to looks down on doing things without logical basis, while at the same time hundreds of marketing firms exist solely to cause people to purchase, behave or believe by appealing to emotion. Most of us wouldn’t be able to articulate why a particular brand is significantly more valuable than its competitors - yet we’ll willingly spend extra money on that particular brand.
The fact is that a rational Judaism is a limited one - even if an individual is significantly knowledgeable and duly observant. At the end of the day, their observance is tied to their understanding - and that is limited by definition.
How can one connect with an infinite G-d through a limited prism? How can one fully integrate Judaism in their life if it is limited?
The supra rational nature of Judaism is highlighted in this week’s Torah portion, its very name is Chukat which means the statutes. These laws that are taught by G-d without any reason being provided. While literally speaking about the laws of the Red Heifer, the Torah implies that all the mitzvot - even those taught with a reason - are included under the umbrella of supra rational commandments.
All Mitzvot, even those that have an understandable and rational meaning, should be performed due to G-d’s command, not simply based on the logical understanding. This attitude provides a powerful inoculation against the possibility of abandoning the mitzvot based on one’s logical calculation.
Think about this: the worst tragedy in history was perpetrated by a modern, technologically advanced, scientifically steeped nation. How could this happen? Because their morals were man made and logical, not based on divine instruction.
Our Torah portion of Chukot has an additional connotation, that of engraving. The Hebrew word for engraving is also related to the name of our portion. It’s an apt connection; when one serves G-d in a supra rational manner, as implied by the first meaning of Chukot, the effect is that their relationship with G-d and their life as a Jew are not simply elements that have been added to their character, rather they are what defines their very being. It’s an expression of their essence, their true self.

Nuclear Soul

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Moses is known as the faithful shepherd of the Jewish people. He redeemed us from Egypt, split the Reed Sea and gave us the Torah. He structured the foundation of Jewish practice and its Judicial systems, leading our ancestors to the border of the Promised Land.
Yet when the Torah highlights his life achievements after his passing, none of these significant accomplishments are listed. Instead, the Torah highlights when he shattered the tablets as the defining moment of his life and his greatest accomplishment.
Consider the context for a moment. The people had sinned within 40 days of receiving the Torah; they had fashioned and worshipped the Golden Calf. This was a blatant violation of the very first of the Ten Commandments they had only just received. And when Moses witnessed this calamity, he shattered the tablets.
How can this be viewed as something positive? How can this be construed as a highlight of Moses’ life? THIS is his defining moment?? THIS is how he should be remembered?? It seems more like an event that would better be swept under the rug!
In fact, that moment when Moses chose to smash the tablets rather than allow the people to be wiped out by G-d, is when he truly became the faithful shepherd of the Jewish people.
Moses highlighted the value of the Jewish people, greater even than their observance of the Torah. Precious beyond anything in existence is the Jewish soul. This is what Moses understood and communicated at that pivotal moment.
This idea is at the core of the Rebbe’s life and leadership. The Rebbe wouldn’t tolerate speaking ill of a fellow Jew and viewed every Jew from the perspective of their powerful soul.
In fact, the Rebbe is said to have compared the soul of a Jew to nuclear energy. What might seem like a miniscule particle can release the most immense energy.
This Sunday, Gimmel Tammuz/3rd Tammuz, marks 27 years since we were able to see the Rebbe.
It’s time to adopt this attitude in our daily interactions with fellow Jews and stop focusing on the superficial. It’s time we start viewing ourselves and each other from the perspective of our souls.
Imagine how much of a difference this would make?

Becoming an Influencer

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Do you ever read an historical narrative and want to scream at the protagonists to warn them of the impending danger they’re stepping into? Or is it only me that has this weird sort of feeling?
Especially when they shoulda seen it coming.
I experience such a moment each year when studying the narrative of the spies recounted in this week’s Torah portion (Sh’lach). G-d Himself was seemingly reluctant to send the spies, telling Moses instead “You decide whether to send them.”
That should have been enough for Moses to realize it wouldn’t end well. Moses himself sensed there was trouble brewing, he even gave Joshua (one of the two spies who remained faithful) a special blessing to protect him from the negative influence of his companions.
So why in Heaven’s name did he go ahead and send them?? Because there was pressure from the people? Moses was used to standing up to pressure, he had never backed down under much greater pressure!! Yet suddenly here, against his better judgment, he capitulated.
Had Moses suddenly lost his mojo?
It’s too great a stretch to interpret this as an unfortunate mistake by the greatest Jewish leader of all time. In fact, if sending spies was the wrong decision, why in the world would Joshua himself make the same mistake some 40 years later when they were finally crossing the border into the land??
Obviously the decision was sound, the failure was in it’s execution.
There was a very important transition that needed to take place while the Jewish people were in the desert. They need to go from being a dependent people for whom everything was done on their behalf, to being independent. They needed to transform themselves from a nation of slaves into a nation of founders and builders; entrepreneurs and leaders.
They had to transition from being takers to being givers. From being influenced to being influencers.
In fact, that’s what the entire story of the Exodus and the journey to the Land of Israel is all about. It’s about taking responsibility. And yes, sometimes that means mistakes will be made.
Moses knew the risks involved but didn’t intervene with the people’s request because he knew this was part of their necessary growth.
Just like our ancestors inheriting the land, our Jewishness and our connection to G-d is not dependent on anyone else aside from each of us. It’s not about the rabbi or the synagogue, it’s about me and G-d.
It’s about me making Jewish choices despite what others may or may not do. It’s about doing what’s right, whether or not it’s popular.

 

What is Antisemitism and What To Do About It?

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It’s like an infectious disease that keeps adapting to the medications that are out to beat it. And just like an infectious disease, in order to eradicate it we have to first understand its nature.
Antisemitism. It’s been around as long as we have. And it keeps morphing into something new, expressing itself differently based on societal change. But at its core it’s always the same; hatred for the Jewish people and everything that Judaism stands for.
You may know that Antisemitism is one of my least favorite topics to discuss. Not because I’m uncomfortable with the topic, rather because I’m loath to allow it to be the focal point of the Jewish experience.
The truth is that properly understanding Antisemitism can actually help us in understanding our own role in the world.
Antisemitism is not hatred per se; it’s a weltanschauung - a reflection on one’s view on life - that can devolve into hatred and discrimination. But at its core, it’s a philosophy on life and that’s why it doesn’t go away.
That’s why it’s a disservice and inaccurate to equate it with any other form of bigotry.
Judaism says that this world was intentionally created - with a purpose and a goal. The purpose is to make this world a home for G-d and the goal is the era when this will be achieved globally. Judaism says that every human being is here to take part in achieving this aim and that the Jewish people are tasked with shining a guiding light and being a positive example in this regard.
Antisemitism is a rejection of the notion that G-d created the world and charged us with elevating and perfecting it.
Antisemitism is a rejection of the conviction that we each have a unique purpose to serve.
Antisemitism is a rejection of the idea that G-d chose the Jewish people for a lead role in this plan.
And the best way to combat it is to live our life in a manner that affirms that G-d created the world and charged us with elevating and perfecting it.
Combating Antisemitism requires us to live our life consistent with the conviction that we each have a unique purpose to serve.
And the greatest rebuke of Antisemitism is demonstrating by our actions and choices that G-d chose the Jewish people for a lead role in this plan.
So, stand and get involved. Not only by denouncing and combating it, and not only by confronting it when and where it rears its ugly head. While there is a time and place for that, our primary way of effecting change is to get involved in the ultimate purpose of creation, making this world a G-dly space.

 

What's the Big Deal?

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Today we’re throwing a big birthday bash - for a fairly young birthday boy; Meir turns three today, so we’re making a big celebration out of it. But why make such a big deal out of turning three? Aren’t there more important things to do than inviting everyone to join a three year old’s birthday party?

Turns out that age three in Jewish tradition is pretty important, in fact that is when the parents’ obligation to educate their child begins.
 
In other words, age three is not just a simple age; rather it’s the age that a Jewish child begins the process of becoming a link in the illustrious, millennia long, chain of Jewish tradition.
 
Jewish education is not as much about teaching information - it’s about providing a firm foundation for life. Today many people view education as teaching information; 1+1=2, ABC, etc.

To clarify: Information helps us understand the difference between a cat and a comma; a cat has claws at the end of its paws but a comma is a pause at the end of a clause. Admittedly useful information - but so secondary to the grand scheme of things.
The most important aspect of education is teaching children about G-d, Torah, absolute moral values and the precious-ness and significance of life. The fact that no matter their family or national origin, their life is significant - and they have a responsibility to their creator - and all humanity - to live up to the potential for which they were created.
It’s never too late to learn information but there is no second chance to provide a child with true foundational education.
(Witnessing the fallacies and moral confusion recently expressed by so many in reaction to events in Israel underscores how downright crucial real education is.)
“But you have to let children discover their own path,” come the complaints. Yes, within a proper foundation, within the correct context. If children are not provided with a firm G-dly and absolute moral values-based foundation, they end up adrift in the sea of life with no means of getting ashore.
When we provide children with a proper education - not just information - this provides them the tools to make proper choices and succeed wherever life leads them.

Do You Wash Your Clothes?

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A friend of mine accidently left his pen in his shirt pocket and unwittingly threw it into the washing machine. When the load was done he realized his mistake because now all his clothes were stained with ink. So he set the washing machine to run a new cycle, only this time in his shirt pocket he put a container of White-Out.
Although cleaning ink stains may work slightly differently than the method my friend tried, the fact is that if your clothes get dirty it's usually not so terrible - they can easily be cleaned.
Our clothes are made to fit us and we wear clothes that match our personal style. But although they’re so closely aligned with us, our clothes are obviously not part of us. We wear them and they keep us warm when necessary, dress us up for an occasion and present our best appearance to others; but they do not become one with us, they remain just that, clothing.
Chassidic teachings explain that our soul wears clothing too. In fact, it has three garments: Thought, Speech and Action. They are the tools that our soul uses to interact with the world.
And just like actual clothes, they can easily be cleaned.
When the Jewish people camped at the foot of Mount Sinai 3333 years ago to receive the Torah, among other things they were instructed to clean their clothes. The intention then was in a ritual sense, to purify their garments.
The holiday of Shavuot begins this Sunday night (yes, it’s a major, Biblical, Jewish holiday). Every year on Shavuot, the anniversary of the giving of the Ten Commandments, we receive the Torah anew. It’s as though we are standing at Mount Sinai all over again. Just like we needed to prepare spiritually the first time around, each year we need to prepare spiritually for the holiday of Shavuot.
Just like then, they needed to clean their clothes; so too each year we need to “clean our clothes.” Our soul clothes. As we prepare for the holiday of Shavuot, it’s time for us to examine our Thought, Speech and Action and ensure they are in line with G-d’s will.
What if they are not exactly as “clean” as they should be? The good news is that just like actual clothing, our “soul clothes” can be easily washed. The difference is that to clean actual clothes you use a washing machine and detergent; to clean our “soul clothes” it takes being aware of our choices and ensuring we make intentional positive choices rather than impulsive ones.
Go ahead, throw in your first load!

This Will Not Pay For Itself

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Have you ever seen those ads for new windows that promise that the new windows will “pay for themselves within 12 months”? Well, an elderly woman once had those wonderful new windows installed. Triple pane, insulation - the works. The company sent her an invoice requesting payment, but almost an entire year had already passed and the bill remained unpaid.
When a debt collector finally caught up with her and asked how she plans to pay the bill, the woman expressed indignation, "I was promised that the windows would pay for themselves within 12 months! Why are you chasing ME for payment?"
It's just a humorous anecdote but it contains an important message. Often we hear about some unique method to accomplish a goal. It may be a personal goal or work related. Perhaps it's guidance on improving our relationships or raising children. Or it may be inspiration to strengthen our Jewish observance and our relationship with G-d.
It sounds simple, make a certain change and you will successfully achieve your goal. So we make the change, we take the initiative and then, we sit back and wait. Instead of maintaining the momentum and following through on our effort, we allow ourselves the perceived comfort of relaxing and falling back.
Then when we don't reach our goal, we incredulously exclaim, "Hey, it was supposed to pay for itself!" Making a goal is step one, but it needs to be followed with a step two, three and four in order to be effective.
In just over a week we will celebrate the holiday of Shavuot. Over 3,000 years ago our ancestors stood as one nation at the foot of the Mount Sinai and received the Torah from G-d. This experience of mass revelation never happened with any other group of people and has never been repeated in history. It is the singular event that defined us and gave us our mission in this world; to fuse the holy with the mundane and to elevate this world and reveal the G-dliness within it.
In the time leading up to Shavuot, we are each presented with an opportunity to make a positive change with regard to our Jewish observance and practice. It's an opportune time to make a specific goal to advance and strengthen our connection. But it's equally important, if not more important, to ensure we stick with it and follow through on our goal.
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