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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.

Elevated by Sin

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You could argue that (spiritually, at least) it was the lowest point in Jewish history, especially considering from where they had come. Just weeks after the most significant event in history, the revelation at Mount Sinai; when G-d Almighty alone had communicated to the Jewish people the instructions of belief in one G-d and not to worship false deities, the Jewish people sinned.

And it wasn’t a “small” sin either, it was the mother of all sins - idol worship. They built the infamous Golden Calf and set about worshiping it. To make matters worse, they engaged in murder and all manner of illicit relations to boot.

The effects of this sin were devastating; Moses smashed the tablets that he had just received from G-d, the perpetrators of this public rebellion were put to death and history was changed forever.

In sharing the details of this low point in Jewish history one would expect that our Torah portion, which shares the story, would be named with a negative descriptor, one which gives us an indication as to the negative nature of the narrative.

However, not only does the name not provide any clue as to the damming story within, it seems to imply the exact opposite. The name of this week’s Torah portion, where the details of the Golden Calf rebellion are shared is, Ki Tisa - “when you raise up”.

If there were ever a misnamed portion, this has got to be it! What is this about?

In fact, as we read on it becomes even more mystifying. The Torah relates how Moses intercedes on behalf of the people and lobbies G-d incessantly for forgiveness. Finally forgiveness is obtained and G-d even agrees to share with Moses the “13 Attributes of Mercy”; G-d’s formula of achieving return, should future mistakes happen.

One section of which reads as follows: G-d “Forgives premeditated misdeeds, rebellious misdeeds and unintentional misdeeds”. The Hebrew word used here to mean “forgive” is “Nosei” which translates literally as “raise up”.

There seems to be a pattern here. Sin, while rebellious and distancing from G-d, has an element of elevation programmed into it.

The Chassidic masters explain that while sin is a negative action, it’s motivation and underlying power may well be used for positive. The act is wrong and needs to be refrained from and renounced but the desire can be channeled for good.

While the sin itself is bad, it’s source can still bring an elevation.

People think that to live according to Torah guidance means changing who they are, somehow fundamentally shifting their personality and personal traits. The truth is, it’s a matter of elevation; we need to surround ourselves with the positive and uplifting messages which will transfer into our choices.

And if we do make a mistake? It can still be a source of elevation, as we learn from our mistakes to craft a brighter future.

Regards from Cincinatti

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Regards from Cincinnati! That’s where I am for a few days, visiting Mendel at the Yeshiva where he is studying this year.

When we sent Mendel out of town to Yeshiva many people asked me about our decision. Why send him to Yeshiva and not to a regular High School? In Yeshiva he spends hours each day studying all parts of Torah; Chassidic Philosophy, Talmud, Jewish Law and the like. Conspicuously absent from the curriculum however are the usual subjects studied in High School; Math, Biology, Physics and other typical subjects.

That’s right, in the Yeshiva we chose for Mendel to attend he does not study any secular subjects at all.

I recognize it’s hard for people to comprehend; are we dooming him to failure? How will he be able to get a job?

Of course not - no sane parent intends to harm their child.

I think people are confounded by our decision due to a fundamental flaw in their understanding of the educational objective.

People tend to think of education as being all about acquiring information; the more information they gain, the better educated they are considered. I view education as guidance for life.

A good high school provides a solid base of information about a variety of topics but it provides next to nothing in the realm of education. Education is about morals and values; proper choices in an increasingly confused world. Good education provides a solid path in life, no matter where your life may lead.

Whether one subsists off of menial labor or one works in a high-tech environment, there are two elements to their work (and by extension, their life). There are the necessary information and skills required to get the job done and there are the much more important foundational, life-guiding mindsets that ensure that we do our work and live our life in an upstanding, honorable and righteous manner.

Anyone, at any point in their life, can increase their information quotient but the fundamentals - not unlike the foundation of a building - need to be instilled during the foundational years of a child’s life.

A child who graduates from high school may have much information but they may well be lacking education. They might be ready to get a job but they’re not necessarily ready to create a life.

A child who graduates from Yeshiva is highly educated, well aware of their place in the world and their responsibility toward it. But they may be lacking information. The good news is that any information they may need in order to get a particular job or obtain a certain credential can easily be studied and achieved.

While I understand that not everyone will agree with me to the extent of sending their child to Yeshiva, I do hope that parents will consider their true role and responsibility, that of providing their child/ren with the proper foundational education for life - and not suffice with the information that they are learning at school.

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