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.

Did you want to get out of bed this morning?

“Wake up David! You’ll be late for Shul (Synagogue)!” Said the mother to her son, as she shook him awake.

“I don’t want to go to Shul! Tell me one reason that I should go to Shul!”

“Because you’re 35 years old and you’re the rabbi!”

Have you ever woken up in the morning and instead of feeling energized and ready to tackle the day, you feel more like staying in bed? I’m sure that you are not the only one – we all have that type of day once in a while.

How do we deal with this type of feeling? How do we overcome the urge to overlook and postpone challenges that we face? How do we rise above our tendency to disregard issues that we know are important and necessary but nonetheless we relegate to the back burner?

When building the Sanctuary for G-d, Moses instructed Betzalel, the chief engineer, to search for men who are “wise of heart". Think about that – “wise of heart”. “Wise” we would associate with intellect and “heart” we would associate with emotions. Seems like two separate areas of our experience. What’s the message hidden in Moses joining them together, “wise of heart”?

Too often, we can know something intellectually but we don’t allow it to influence our emotions. We create a barrier between our “wisdom” and our “heart”. This barrier may make us feel safer and less vulnerable but it also tempers our passion and enthusiasm. We are not moved to act. (In a similar vein, the emotions are held in check by the intellect and prevent us from becoming too extreme).

Moses is instructing us to be “wise of heart”, allow our knowledge and understanding to effect change in our lives. Let’s allow ourselves to get excited and passionate about Judaism. Allow this enthusiasm to translate into action and add a mitzvah to our daily experience; put on tefillin, start the day with tefillah, study Torah – there are so many mitzvot that you’d be surprised how easily they can be incorporated into our schedule.

Toward a Meaningful Life: Home & Family

A Second Chance

A congregant had the temerity to fall asleep during the rabbi’s sermon. So the rabbi called for the shamash (synagogue secretary) and instructed him to wake the congregant. The shamash responded, “Rabbi, you put him to sleep –you wake him up!”

Upon witnessing the Jewish People bowing to the golden calf, (as recounted in this week’s Torah portion), Moses broke the Two Tablets that he was carrying. Later the Torah tells us how the Jews were forgiven and Moses was instructed by G-d to carve a new set of tablets. You broke the first set, you replace them.

This particular part of our history is especially perplexing. The Jewish people had just experienced the most wondrous series of miracles ever witnessed by mankind, beginning with the Ten Plagues and culminating with the revelation on Mount Sinai and the giving of the Torah. And now, a mere forty days later, they exchange their faith in G-d for idol worship? They place their allegiance in a lump of gold??

Truth is that herein lies a profound message. The Jewish People had transgressed the first two of the Ten Commandments - within forty days of hearing them from G-d’s voice! The Two Tablets that Moses had brought down from Mount Sinai lay smashed and broken. One can think that there is no hope, all is lost. We failed.

So the Torah teaches, that all is NOT lost, there’s hope. We can mend our past.

We can reestablish our connection to Hashem; we can re-strengthen the personal relationships in our life.

It’s not all lost, it’s not too late.

Toward a Meaningful Life: Marriage, Love and Intimacy

Finding Meaning

A proud Jewish grandmother is walking in the park with her two grandchildren and meets her good friend, Sadie.

“Such beautiful grandchildren! Will you introduce them to me?”

“Of course... this one’s the doctor and this one is the lawyer.''

Too often, we allow external pressures and societal expectations to drive our choices in life. So many of us think, “What will my neighbors think,'' when making a decision rather than “What should I be doing?''

Last night we began our first class of the new JLI course, ''Toward a Meaningful Life.'' We discovered that humans are unique; we are created in the divine image in order to fulfill the mission of taming and refining the world. We learned that initially only one human being was created and that although we are all created in the “mold” of the first person Adam, no two people are alike. Therefore we each must be mindful and think that “the world was created for me.”

The fact that we look different is because we are different; we each have our own portion of the world to perfect. Our mission is unique and indispensable. Birth is G-d saying “You matter.”

When we have a mission and a purpose to our life, we are free! We are no longer bound to what society expects from us, we make decisions based on our mission. Without this focus, we may have everything we would ever want, but it will be fragmented and confused. When we have a mission, all that we do is woven together in a coherent manner.

The Jewish lifestyle, based on the profound precepts of the Torah, provide this center and meaning to our life. Living according to the Torah’s guidance actually provides a freedom not offered anywhere else – the freedom to make our own decisions based on what we need to be doing.

Let’s discover the freedom that Torah offers. We’re in this together.

Turning Your House into a Home

The news this week has been quite unsettling; massive, deadly riots in Egypt, powerful winter storms across most of the United States and cyclones ripping through Queensland, Australia. Events like these help underscore the value of having a tranquil place to call home.

I specifically say ‘home’ as opposed to a ‘house’. You see, a ‘house’ is just a physical structure. It has walls, a roof, it provides shelter. However, while many places can provide shelter, a true ‘home’ provides emotional security.

A home is a place that nurtures our emotional well being. When we are outside we generally don’t reveal our innermost feelings, we wear ‘masks’ that conceal ourselves in various ways. When we are at home we feel free to express our deepest selves.

They say that a home is where you can say anything you like because nobody listens to you anyway.

In this week’s Torah portion we learn about the construction of G-d’s ‘home’ the Mishkan (sanctuary). G-d desires a dwelling place in this world that would serve as a focal point and a source from which G-dliness would emanate to the rest of the world.

Our homes, too, provide us with a place where we can feel comfortable with our inner selves providing us with the secure footing necessary to be comfortable with our outer selves. This in turn gives us the emotional strength to confront the world.

Creating a true home takes motivation, time and effort. A key component of a true home is shalom bayit, peace. To ensure shalom bayit three critical elements of the home must be strengthened and enhanced; the family relationships (between the parents themselves and between the parents and their children), the atmosphere of the home (warm and inviting for both family and guests) and the way the home functions (shared responsibility of each member of the household).

Once we have the peaceful interactions necessary to create a ‘home’ firm spiritual foundations must be set in place. The spiritual pillars of the ‘home’ are Torah (education and study), avodah (prayer, self evaluation and character refinement), and gemillut chasadim (acts of goodness and kindness).

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