Heaven and How to Get There: Whose Perspective

This week the SD was listening to a continuing legal education on trial tactics in personal injury cases. The SD tries to avoid bringing in the day job, but this was too illuminating. The lecturer started by paying homage to a giant in the field of trial advocacy who had passed away recently. He described this gentlemen as a great trial lawyer, a great advocate for his clients and finally stated: “Henry I’m sure your up in Heaven trying cases right now”

At first, the SD thought “how moronic was that statement.” Who is tripping on a banana peel in heaven? Who is getting hit by a car in heaven? Justice in heaven is absolute and does not need a trial lawyer’s advocacy to persuade a jury.

But then the SD thought again. Recently the SD read a book by Michael Lerner (editor of Tikkun Magazine). While his politics might be difficult for many people, he makes a good point about our Jewish experience. Essentially he posits that each person brings the weight of history into his consciousness. All the pain, the cruelty, the viciousness, the violence of the past history or what he witnessed seeped into his soul or psyche. The job of a Jew is to eradicate these negative traits. Our job is to root them out of our lives and exchange them for kindness, compassion, love, charity etc. So the challenge for each Jew is too find the negative traits that are baked into him and root them out and exchange them. Therefore, each person’s challenge or life work in improvement is very different.

As Torah Jews, maybe we use halacha, hashkafa, Jewish values as a template to lead us to compassion or character improvment. But we cannot escape our own life experiences, memories, or influences which strain or distort the Torah template or at least influence the template of the Torah. This is why some Jews post Torah learning is the highest level of service; others think acts of kindness, others think Shabbos observance. In the end, our world view is colored by our baked in traits and therefore influence our service to Hashem.

Getting back to Heaven. We each have a different conception of what goes on in Heaven. Even within the framework of Torah structures we have different paths to heaven. Maybe, the work is not worrying about heaven, but worrying about the work we need to do on earth.

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Bo: Materialism Israel v. Egypt

Sometimes you can go a whole week of reading the parsha on the bus, the train, waitingin line… and somehow you miss the gem.

In Chapter 10 in the plague of darkness, Pharoah calls Moses and says, you and your people and their children can go, but the sheep and cattle they stay. The word is “yozug” which is funny and rashi tells you: stay in place. The Ramban gives an incite into Pharoahs thinking. According to Ramban Pharoah knows that Jews have big herds. It represents their material weatlth. Pharoah thinks they will not leave their herds and not come back. Once they are back all will be ok. He thinks they are tethered to Egypt by their wealth.

Moses answer beautifully: We will take in even yours to offer. And our cattle we will take and not leave a hoof in order to serve gd as we dont know what service gd come to us there.

What is Moses saying: You think we have this stuff just to pad our balance. Our material is all subject to the whims of Hashem. We have it to serve him. Moses dispels Pharoah’s understanding of material values. To Pharoah it herds are totally physical. To Moses and Israel material items are used in the service in god.

As I said, it did not come to me until I was sitting at the beautiful shabbos table, with silver kiddush cups, beautiful challah covers, great food. It is great to have and enjoy, but it is done in the context of service.

So next time you pull your Aston Martin out of the garage, remember, it is all in the service of Gd.

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Shmos: Moshe the Baby Model

The story in Parshat shmos is pretty well known. Pharoah and Egyptians enslave the Jews. Little Baby Moses is born. Moses is hidden for three months. He is then put in a basket and put into the Nile. Fortuitously, Pharoah’s daughter came down to the Nile and sees him. The Torah states: She opened and saw the boy and behold the “youth” was crying.

Ramban picks up on the term “youth” and comments that Moses was remarkably handsome with long limbs and appeared more mature.

A few years ago, the NY Times had an article that an extensive study was done which showed that beautiful children got far more attention in school than their peers. The teachers gave them extra attention and special treatment. No surprise as it is common knowledge that good looks goes a long way. In fact the SD will exhort to anyone who listens that very successful executives often share three characteristics: 1. hair 2. height 3. Thin. In fact, the only bald president this country had in the 20 and 21 century was Eisenhower and he had to be elected.

So was Moses saved because he was good looking? The short answer is yes. Pharoah’s daughter had pity on him because she saw something in him. She saw a good looking kid. The reality is that life is not fair. Good looking people have advantages. They get more attention. The interesting thing is that Moshe did not see himself that way. He was humble. Modest. Maybe that is what Rashi says in his explanation on the pasuk: that when she opened the basket she saw the divine presence.

So if you are blessed with Tom Cruise looks, walked humbly and thank gd for all your gifts.

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Jews and Food: Pesachim page 40B-41

Jews and Food. It is cliche (like Irish and whiskey). A close friend once told me that we actually serve Hashem ritually by eating. These pages in pesachim reinforce this idea. In the mishna we are told that on passover we may NOT mix flour with charoses. We automatically think of seder night charoses of the seder night and dipping into the marror. Hower, charoses here is actually referring to the basting or the coating for the paschal lamb. Later in 41 the daf talks about the manner in which the lamb must be cooked- roasted. The charosiet here is the condiment or flavor enhancer.

The SD loves this. Hashem directs us to eat something tasty to re-enact a seminal moment in our history. By chewing, tasting and ingesting we memoralize our experience. To add to this unique method of memory of Passover, the talmud goes out if its way to enforce that we may even make it tastier.

Our service to Hashem is not through some esoteric or abstruse ideal, but rather by the human and mundane act of eating. Service of Gd through the act of eating reinforces that our relationship with hashem is tangible, not existential. So sit, pick up a fork and serve Hashem.

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Miketz: Chapter 42 Verse 9: Dressing Down

In Miketz Joseph is elevated to Viceroy due to his insights about Pharoh’s dreams and the upcoming famine. The brothers come to Egypt to buy food and stand before Joseph. Joseph sees them, recognizes them and then accuses them of being spies.

The Ramban says something wild. The brother were all dressed up. All decked out. They were as my kids we say: “looking natty”. Ramban says they were handsome and wearing fancy clothes in contrast to the other poor people lining up for food. What does this say about the brothers.

The SD would like to suggest you don’t wear your Rolex watch or your Brioni suit when you are on a bread line. You recognize that others around you are in bad straits. Maybe you should recognize that if you are in the middle of breadline wearing “natty duds” is not that smart. It raises suspicion it makes you stand out. Standing out is what got them to be thought of as spies. It gave Joseph cover to accuse them. Standing out by wearing the fancy or natty duds is just plain wrong all the time.

While the SD does not wear the standard yeshiva clothes, the SD admires that dress for the simple reason that no one stands out. Everyone looks the same. When everyone wears a black suit and white shirt there is no haughtiness or arrogance. You stand out with character not clothing.

Stand out with character not clothing.

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Miketz: Chapter 42 Verse 9: Dressing Down

In Miketz Joseph is elevated to Viceroy due to his insights about Pharoh’s dreams and the upcoming famine. The brothers come to Egypt to buy food and stand before Joseph. Joseph sees them, recognizes them and then accuses them of being spies.

The Ramban says something wild. The brother were all dressed up. All decked out. They were as my kids we say: “looking natty”. Ramban says they were handsome and wearing fancy clothes in contrast to the other poor people lining up for food. What does this say about the brothers.

The SD would like to suggest you don’t wear your Rolex watch or your Brioni suit when you are on a bread line. You recognize that others around you are in bad straits. Maybe you should recognize that if you are in the middle of breadline wearing “natty duds” is not that smart. It raises suspicion it makes you stand out. Standing out is what got them to be thought of as spies. It gave Joseph cover to accuse them. Standing out by wearing the fancy or natty duds is just plain wrong all the time.

While the SD does not wear the standard yeshiva clothes, the SD admires that dress for the simple reason that no one stands out. Everyone looks the same. When everyone wears a black suit and white shirt there is no haughtiness or arrogance. You stand out with character not clothing.

Stand out with character not clothing.

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Pesachim Pages 10-11: Chametz Search and Mr. Magoo

When the SD was little there was a cartoon character named Mr. Magoo. He went through life with his eyes closed. He was always about to fall off a cliff, fall into a ditch. Disaster as loomed that he did not see because he was oblivious. But at that last second, he would be saved. What does this have to do with searching for Chametz?

The Mishna on page 10-Rabbi Yehuda tells us there are 3 times we search. The evening of 14 of Nissan, the morning of 15 and afternoon. The Talmud presents the issue if the afternoon search is missed do we search until the last moment. The Rabbis say if you miss the last search in appointed time in the afternoon, do it until the last moment. Rabbi Yehuda disagrees. He says if you missed the afternoon search, forget it, dont bother. Leave it alone. His reason is that if you find something you might come to eat it.

Why the disagreement. The SD thinks this is where Mr. Magoo comes in. Rabbi Yehuda is telling you, if you miss the time, dont make problems, dont be so OCD, just leave it along. Hope for the best. Don’t worry. Just forget it and move on. The Rabbis obviously are not big fans of this approach, do the check until the last minute they say.

Just remember, despite going through life with his eyes closed, Mr. Magoo was just fine.

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Vayatze: Gd’s Promse to Stick it Out with Us

In Chapter 28, line 15 Gd says to Jacob: Behold I am with you, I will watch you where all you go and will return you to the land. ” It sounds like Gd is talking directly to Jacob and promising him and comforting him.

The holy Ishbitzer (which now has a great English translation by Rabbi Hershey Worsh which is very clear and worth purchasing) expands and makes the promise eternal. The Ishbitzer says interprets “return you ” to “restore you.” Restore in the sense of loss like returning a lost object. He famously quotes the Talmud in Gitten which seems to be the cornerstone of his philosophy: One must stumble (fail) in the Torah to truly uphold and it and understand. (Gitten page 43a). Restoration or return can only happen if one is lost or an object is lost.

The Ishbitzer is saying something very profound. To love something, to appreciate something one must sometimes exist without it.. to long for it… to search for it. Is the Ishbitzer saying we should intentionally violate a precept in order to return to it. I doubt that. But it seems the Isbitzer understands human nature- that sometimes we lose faith or the strength to uphold the Torah. That moment presents an opportunity for restoration and return. The fall or stumbling leads to strenghtening and upholding.

The promise to Jacob that he will return him to his land after the hiatus with Lavan is therefore analogous to our journey where sometimes, we lose direction. It is a promise that if we use our failures as springboards to repent and return, Gd will be with us- even in our failures.

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Pesachim3: Passover The Holiday of Speech

The Talmud Pesachim starts with a mishna that say on the “ohr” (light) of the 14th we do a search for chametz. The Talmud then spends two pages discussing is “ohr” refer to day or night. Finally after several attempts it finds a Braisa that says exactly what it wants: it refers to night. The Talmud seems to ask, why this whole thing about “ohr” -light instead of night. The answer: The Talmud and Torah prefers not to use coarse speech. Rashi says, night is not necessarily coarse, but is in not really uplifting or refined so Light is preferred. The Talmud goes on to show how refined speech is preferable.

How odd! Here we are discussing Passover-the holiday of Matza, no leaven products and the Talmud starts with speech. The answer is in the name of the holiday itself: “pe” or mouth and “sach”-speech. Pesach is “mouth speech.” Usually referring to speaking and discussing the Hagada.

The SD needs to confess that oftentimes (especially when imbibing) he has a pretty bad potty mouth. The potty mouth is one of the SD many faults that despite tremendous effort, has never been overcome.

Maybe this is the lesson of Passover. Before eating Matza (putting food in) We need to watch what comes out. The SD will now work on the potty mouth.

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Eruvin 100: What Type of Jew Are You

Eruvin 100 has a discussion about Shabbat and trees. It is prohibited to climb a tree on Shabbat. However, what happens if you forget and by accident climb a tree. Do you stay there until Shabbat ends or do you come down.

To answer this question the Talmud quotes a Mishna which frankly is quite complex and abstruse. However the two opinions are beautiful. Rabbi Joshua says when confronted with a problem, stay put, refrain from acting. Mitigate. Rabbi Eliezer says act. Rabbi Joshua says to Rabbi Eliezer: You potentially will violate the prohibition of “adding to a mitzva.” Rabbi Eliezer responds to Rabbi Joshua : You are potentially “detracting from a mitzva. ” So going back to the tree: Do you sit on the branch all day similar to Rabbi Joshua’s dictum to refrain, or do you climb down ?

The question lays out the fundamental question of life. Is it better to act conservatively. Play it safe; Do no harm ; dont take chances (R. Joshua) or is it better to go down swinging; possibly do harm.

This is the guts of learning. After 100 pages of Eruvin, endless diagrams, mind twisting and complex scenarios of eruvs, partitions, spatial relations, we finally get to the question of life: Do I climb off the tree or sit like tight and hope the branch does not break.

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