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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 Decapitated Calf and The Ice Bucket Challenge

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What’s this about a decapitated calf? And what could it possibly have to do with the viral Ice Bucket Challenge?

Unless you live under a rock, you probably have heard about - or even participated in - the Ice Bucket Challenge; it has raised close to $100 million for research for a cure to ALS. Some people have chosen to opt out of the challenge, many with valid reasons - they already support other causes, there’s a drought in California and it’s a waste of water, and the list goes on.

Before there were Ice Bucket Challenges or ribbons to raise awareness, there was the Decapitated Calf. The Torah describes the process that would be followed if a murdered corpse would be found in a field and no one knew what had happened. The leaders of the city would bring a calf to a place where the corpse was found and decapitate it. They would then wash their hands over it and say, "Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see [this crime]."

The purpose was twofold; firstly, to emphasize the responsibility that the residents of the surrounding area had to an unknown passer-by, and secondly, to raise awareness to the crime and hopefully find the one responsible and bring them to justice.

Today, we don’t have any calves being decapitated but we can still learn an important lesson: When you see something, say something!

The leaders of the surrounding cities must come and pronounce that they did not “shed this blood,” not because we suspect them, rather to emphasize their responsibility - had they properly ensured that this traveller had food, was he properly dressed for the elements? Did he need protection? Although this took place out of their direct sphere of influence, outside of their immediate surroundings, they still have a responsibility. When something goes awry, they’re held accountable.

This summer, we’ve seen a war between Israel and a terrorist organization bent on destroying Israel and murdering every Jew in the world. We’ve seen the terrorist organization ISIS gain notoriety through it’s brutal murder of innocent people (including an American journalist). And there’s also the Ice Bucket challenge.

The common denominator? All are important and all, I could argue, are beyond my scope of influence. What effect can I actually have?

The Decapitated Calf narrative informs us that no matter how insignificant we view our influence, no matter how far beyond our daily routine, we have a responsibility to voice our concern and outrage when terrible things are happening. On the positive side, when we learn of someone who can use a hand, when we learn of a need - step up and help. Visit someone in hospital, even if they have family. Donate, even if there are so many others that can help.

And the Ice Bucket Challenge? If you don’t want to dump ice water on your head, whether due to conservation or for another reason - do your part and raise awareness another way. And if you support other causes? That’s fine too! Channel the giving inspiration to send an extra donation to a cause that you already support.

Most importantly - don’t just dump ice water on someone and cool them off from the important work they’ve set out to do, encourage them and then go do something that you think is worthwhile. The bottom line - don’t just sit there, do something!

Anything is better than nothing.

What do you see?

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“If you don’t see what you’re looking for – you’ve come to the right place,” claims the sign at the opticians office.

In life, too, we have to look for the right things in the right places. If not, we will find ourselves not seeing what we’re truly looking for.

This week’s Torah portion begins with the word “Re’eh,” see. Moshe is telling the Jewish people “See I have placed before you blessing and curse.” Moshe is reminding them of an extremely important fact, the way to look.

Not that there are blessings and there are curses, rather choose what to see: blessing or curse.

In this week’s portion the Torah repeats the list of non-kosher birds. One bird is referred to with a different name than previously, here it is called the Ra’ah bird.

The Talmud wonders, why is it’s name changed here? And it explains that it’s name is a reference to its keen eyesight (the Hebrew name of this bird, Ra’ah, means “seeing”).

Ok, fine - it’s new name is a reference to it’s sight. However there is a peculiar statement that the Talmud adds to this. The Talmud continues and states that this birds eyesight is so powerful that it can be located in Bavel (modern day Iraq) and it can see a carcass in Israel.

Is this even possible? Can modern technology accomplish this? Not necessarily. So what is the Talmud trying to communicate? There is a powerful lesson embedded within this enigmatic statement: One can be looking at the holiest place on earth, Israel - yet only see a carcass.

One can be looking at positive occurrences - in our life or in the world at large - yet only see negative, a “carcass.” The flipside is the same: we can see and experience truly negative, yet only perceive the good within it.

It’s totally up to us as to how we view the world - if we are in “Bavel,” a place of negativity and strife, we will see a “carcass.” However, if we ensure that our place in life and our surroundings are positive, we will see the good in everything.

Here is my challenge to you - and please do share your thoughts: This week we learned of the barbaric beheading of an American journalist by terrorists in Iraq; we’ve been watching for weeks as terrorists in Gaza continue to fire rockets at Israeli civilians; we’ve seen riots and tension in Ferguson, MI; we are witnessing the rise of Anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world - the list goes on. What can possibly be the positive view to take on these events?

May we only see - and truly experience - good in our lives!

Peanuts - without the chocolate

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons 

A tour bus driver was calmly driving a bus load of seniors down a highway, when he was suddenly tapped on his shoulder by a little old lady. She kindly offered him a handful of peanuts, which he gratefully enjoyed.

15 minutes later she tapped him on his shoulder again and she handed him another handful of peanuts. This scene repeated itself a number of times until, when she was about to hand him yet another handful of nuts, he asked the little old lady, “Why don't you eat the peanuts yourself?"

"We can't chew them because we've got no teeth," she replied.

Puzzled, the driver asked, "Then why do you buy them?" The old lady replied, "We just love the chocolate on the outside."

Many experiences in life seem to be one way at first, and when we spend the time to look a little deeper, we perceive an entirely different dimension of reality.

Take wealth, for example - many people wish they were wealthier. We try to come up with all types of plans, investments or business dealings in order to earn more money and become more wealthy. We look at others and how financially successful they seem to be and we wish to emulate them.

We tend to ignore the detail that all aspects of life come with their own set of challenges; whether one is financially secure or ones finances are uncertain, there are challenges associated with each stage.

The key to overcoming the challenges thrown our way is to recognize that it is all coming from one source: G-d. When we recognize that our success comes from G-d, we will be much more humble and appreciative. When we acknowledge that the challenges that we face come from G-d, we realize that life is not random, rather there is a reason behind it all.

Exploring the deeper side of life lifts us up and encourages us, and enables us to live life to the fullest.

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